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Senate probe finds forced medical procedures in immigration center

Some women detainees at a Georgia center were subject to excessive, often unnecessary gynecological procedures, subcommittee reveals

An exterior view of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency headquarters.
An exterior view of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency headquarters. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

Some women held at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia were subject to “excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynecological procedures,” according to a bipartisan Senate investigation unveiled at a hearing Tuesday.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee, shared the findings of the 18-month probe into forced medical procedures in U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention.

“This is an extraordinarily disturbing finding, and in my view, represents a catastrophic failure by the federal government to respect basic human rights,” Ossoff told the subcommittee.

The hearing featured testimony from Karina Cisneros Preciado, who was detained at Irwin for seven months. Cisneros Preciado was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst and treated, including with contraceptive shots, by Dr. Mahendra Amin, a government-contracted physician.

However, another doctor who later treated her determined there was no evidence of a cyst, and Cisneros Preciado said she did not properly consent to the treatment she was given.

“I’m extremely scared to go to any doctor or myself and for my kids,” she told the committee. “And the reason I’m sharing my story is because I don’t want this to happen to any other women or any other person in general.”

The panel interviewed more than 70 witnesses and reviewed more than 541,000 pages of records from the U.S. government, the detention center, Irwin County Hospital and LaSalle Corrections.

La Salle Corrections is the private company that ran the detention center. The Biden administration announced in May 2021 it would no longer send detainees to that facility after a whistleblower report.

Outside medical experts who reviewed medical records and documents had “significant concerns” about the treatment Amin provided to detainees.

According to the investigation, Amin performed 93 percent of all Depo-Provera contraceptive injections given to ICE detainees between 2017 and 2020, as well as 92 percent of all limited pelvic exams and 82 percent of all dilation and curettage procedures.

“Many of these women identify as trauma survivors. Several report a history of either rape, sexual abuse or sexual assault,” Dr. Margaret Mueller, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern Medicine, testified at the hearing.

“All were incarcerated and unable to choose a medical professional with whom they felt comfortable. In that setting, these women were forced to relinquish their autonomy.”

Investigators also found that Amin had been sued by the Department of Justice and the state of Georgia in 2013 for Medicaid fraud and other wrongdoing related to unnecessary gynecological procedures.

Later in the hearing, Ossoff pressed government officials and LaSalle Corrections on the procedures Amin performed as well as the division of responsibility between the government and the private contractor.

“Why did your agency fail? How did you allow this to happen? How did you allow dozens if not hundreds of women to be subjected to unnecessary gynecological surgery?” Ossoff asked Stewart D. Smith, assistant director of ICE Health Service Corps.

“We weren’t aware of these complaints,” Smith responded, noting that government employees were not present at the medical provider’s office and did not know about the misconduct until a whistleblower complained in 2020.

“We want to fix the system so it doesn’t happen again,” Smith said.

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