ICE Keeps Trying to Deport Women in the Gynecological Surgery Scandal

Lawyers fought the deportations of two women who were treated by a controversial gynecologist while in ICE custody.
November 18, 2020, 3:52pm
Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.
Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. (Photo: Juanita Ceballos/VICE News)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has again tried to deport two women linked to an investigation into allegations of medical abuse at a Georgia ICE facility, days after members of Congress asked the agency to stop doing that. 

On Tuesday, Ana Cajigal Adan learned that her commissary account at Irwin County Detention Center had been zeroed out—a signal that she could be deported to Mexico, a country Adan left when she was just six months old, as early as Wednesday morning. 

A Honduran woman whom VICE News is identifying as “JR” told VICE News that her commissary at the Ocilla, Georgia, facility had also been emptied, a sign that she, too, could be deported within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Both of these women say they were treated by Dr. Mahendra Amin, the local gynecologist at the heart of the investigation into allegations that Irwin detainees underwent or were pressured to undergo unwanted or unnecessary medical procedures.

Medical records reviewed by VICE News confirm that both women were Amin’s patients. They are among six women who have told VICE News that ICE deported or has attempted to deport them before the conclusion of the investigation, sparked by a whistleblower complaint published in September

ICE Tried to Deport Yet Another Potential Witness in the Gynecology Scandal

This is also the second time in less than a month that both women have faced the prospect of being deported. In early November, ICE notified Adan that she would soon be deported. (Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, ultimately stepped in to keep Adan in the country.) JR was originally set to be deported on a November 11 flight, just days after her attorneys told federal investigations that she could be a potential witness, according to JR’s lawyer Sarah Sherman-Stokes.

Shortly after JR’s commissary was zeroed out on Tuesday, Sherman-Stokes reached out to ICE and other federal officials, asking them to keep her client within the United States. She soon received confirmation that her client would not be put on a plane back to Honduras, she said—but as of Tuesday night, lawyers for Adan were still rushing to file court documents to prevent Adan’s deportation. Ultimately, those papers were filed in time, according to her attorney Tracie Klinke. Ana remained in the United States as of Wednesday morning.

Asked if she has confidence that Adan won’t find herself again facing deportation in the weeks ahead, Klinke replied, “I sure as hell hope not.”

“I’m anxious, scared, a little bit,” Adan told VICE News in an interview from inside Irwin on Tuesday afternoon. As late as 7 p.m. local time, no official at the facility had given her any information about what was happening, she said.

In an email, an ICE spokesperson said that ICE is fully cooperating with the investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. The agency has also helped accommodate interviews that are being conducted by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. 

“ICE has been notifying the DHS OIG, through ICE Office of Professional Responsibility, about any planned transfers or removals of Irwin detainees who were former patients of Dr. Amin, and is fully supporting the efforts by both the DHS OIG and DOJ Civil Rights Division,” the spokesperson said. “Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false.”

‘Jarring medical neglect’

More than 50 women have come forward in the wake of the whistleblower complaint, which alleged that “jarring medical neglect” and confusing medical treatment were rife within Irwin, which is run by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections. VICE News has uncovered the accounts of at least 15 women who said that while detained at Irwin, they underwent gynecological procedures that they didn’t want, didn’t understand, or found deeply painful.

“If you look at these cases in isolation, you can perhaps convince yourself that it was a coincidence,” Sherman-Stokes said. But when you zoom out, “The pattern of apparent retaliation, intimidation, and an effort to interfere in these women’s desires to speak seems pretty clear.”

LaSalle Corrections spokesperson Scott Sutterfield declined to comment on this story, citing company policy that prohibits comment during pending investigations. 

“However, we can assure you the allegations are being investigated by independent offices and LaSalle Corrections is fully cooperating,” he wrote in an email. “It is important to point out that contractors play no role in transfer or release decisions for detainees. Managing detainee populations—including where they are cared for and when they are released/removed—is the role of our government partners.”

Earlier this week, members of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security and the Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to ICE’s acting director, demanding that the agency “refrain from deporting witnesses and victims in ongoing investigations” at Irwin.

“Our Committees previously asked ICE, LaSalle Corrections, and ICDC [Irwin County Detention Center] to produce documents relating to the whistleblower allegations. That request followed an earlier request to the DHS Inspector General to investigate these reports of ‘medical atrocities,’” read the letter, which was signed by five members of Congress. “Not only has ICE refused to comply with these requests or provide a briefing to our Committees, it has reportedly pressed LaSalle Corrections and ICDC to ignore the request in an extraordinary attempt to stonewall Congress.”

Detained at Irwin since February 2020, Adan told VICE News earlier this month that during a visit with Amin, he stuck a tool with a condom-like covering up her vaginal canal. She described the exam as “overly aggressive.”

“He was rough on me. There was a couple of times where I said, ‘Ouch.’” 

“I was shocked because, like, first of all, he didn't explain to me what's the procedure that he was doing to me,” she said. “And he was rough on me. There was a couple of times where I said, ‘Ouch.’” 

Facing deportation

Adan, 25, said that Amin told her she had cysts and prescribed her birth control. VICE News reviewed medical records that confirm Amin identified follicular cysts on Adan’s right ovary. 

Adan said she experienced pain afterward and that she went to see a second OB-GYN about six weeks after her appointment with Amin. That OB-GYN, Adan said, told her that she did not have any cysts.

Last week, a woman who has lived in the United States since she was 3 told VICE News that she, too, was almost deported. The woman, whom VICE News is identifying only by her first name of Yanira, said she was sitting in a van, waiting to get on a plane, when she was taken back to the facility.

Yanira said that during an appointment with Amin in February, he gave her a transvaginal ultrasound that “caused me a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort,” leaving her shaken.

Amin has denied all wrongdoing. Scott Grubman, Amin’s lawyer, has told VICE News in the past that under federal privacy law his client is prohibited from speaking about specific clients without a waiver.

“Dr. Amin treats all patients with care and respect, and any allegation of improper treatment is simply false,” Grubman told VICE News in an email last week. “Dr. Amin continues to cooperate fully with investigators and is confident that those investigations will clear him of any and all wrongdoing.”

If Adan is eventually deported, she’ll have to find her way back to her grandmother’s house in Guerrero, which has been called the epicenter of organized crime in Mexico. On Tuesday, she expected to be dropped off at the Mexican border, which is about a 17-hour bus ride from Guerrero.

During an interview with VICE News Tuesday, Adan said she has spoken with federal investigators, a conversation that Klinke confirmed took place last week. But both Klinke and Adan agreed: She could offer more to the investigation. 

“I felt like I needed a follow-up interview,” Adan said. “I was able to explain everything, but I just wasn’t prepared. I was kind of, like, nervous.”

Through an interpreter, JR told VICE News that she fears being returned to Honduras, a country where, she said, her abusive former partner is lying in wait for her. JR, 33, fled to the United States in 2016, at nine months pregnant. JR’s five children are set to remain in the United States.

Although Sherman-Strokes that she had no record of JR speaking with federal investigators, JR said that she had talked to them. VICE News could not immediately reach JR, who is still inside Irwin, to follow up. 

Even if women have spoken with investigators, if they need help, the United States should make sure that they get it—not deport them, said Sarah Owings, an immigration attorney who’s been a part of the legal effort to represent women who’ve alleged gynecological mistreatment while detained at Irwin. 

“It’s not exactly a place conducive to healing or to making sure that you’re OK,” Owings said of Irwin. “If they are truly willing to uncover and investigate and make, I guess, any effort to try to repair the damage, let’s say then deporting people is not the way to go about it.”