Yanira was 3 years old when she was brought to the United States from Mexico. This week, the 36-year-old could become the latest woman to be deported after undergoing gynecological procedures while detained in an Immigration Customs and Enforcement facility in Georgia.
She is just one of the more than 50 women who’ve come forward in the wake of an explosive whistleblower complaint released in September, which alleged “jarring medical neglect” and confusing medical care at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.
Through medical records, interviews with detained women, and interviews with attorneys, VICE News has uncovered the accounts of 15 women who said that they underwent gynecological procedures that they didn’t want, didn’t understand, or found deeply painful while detained at Irwin.
Although the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into the facility, VICE News has learned of six potential witnesses, including Yanira, who said that ICE deported or attempted to deport them before they could testify or fully testify in that investigation.
Yanira, who was picked up by immigration officials after being jailed in South Carolina, is still facing the prospect of being deported to Mexico even though she said she doesn’t speak fluent Spanish and she’s only met her family there a handful of times. She has an 11-year-old daughter who is a U.S. citizen.
“I'm about to be separated from her,” she told VICE News from inside the facility on Sunday. “And I'm gonna have to call her and let her know that I might be getting deported.
“I don't know how she's going to take it.”
Like other women who say they experienced medical mistreatment while detained at Irwin, Yanira was a patient of local gynecologist Dr. Mahendra Amin, who has denied all wrongdoing. Her account and allegations against Amin were provided to federal investigators in late October. Yet Yanira, whom VICE News is identifying only by her first name, first suspected she was scheduled to be deported after the money in her commissary account was wiped over the weekend.
When VICE News reached her on Sunday night, she was preparing to leave for an early Monday morning flight to Acuña, in the Mexican state of Coahuila.
Yanira said she was sitting in a van, waiting to get on a plane, when she learned that her deportation was being halted. She said that when two of the ICE officials who were transporting her learned that she was potentially involved in an investigation, they suggested that women were lying about Amin.
“That's a bunch of damn lies that everybody is making,” Yanira recalls one officials saying.
As of Monday night, Yanira was back at Irwin, where she has been detained for more than 10 months.
“ICE holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any accusation of inappropriate behavior should be reported through official channels,” ICE said in a statement.
Last week, Ana Cajigal Adan, another potential witness, said that ICE told her that she would soon be deported to Mexico, a country that Adan has not lived in since she was just six months old. Ultimately, Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, stepped in to stop Adan’s deportation, but her attorneys told VICE News that they still feared she could be deported at any time.
Adan said that she didn’t consent to a procedure where Amin inserted an instrument with a condom-like covering into her vaginal canal.
Amelia Wilson, an attorney with the Immigrants Rights’ Clinic at Columbia Law School who is working on Yanira’s case, said that ICE is now trying to cover up evidence.
“ICE is engaging in retaliatory deportations in an effort to silence witnesses and victims who are critical to the DOJ's investigation into Dr. Amin's monstrous activity,” Wilson said.
In response, ICE issued VICE News a statement and said that the agency “fully cooperates” with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general office.
“ICE has been notifying the DHS OIG [Office of Inspector General], 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,” an ICE spokesperson told VICE News in an email. “Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false.”
In late October, a team of independent doctors and nursing experts submitted a report to Congress in which they concluded that they’d found a “disturbing pattern” of questionable gynecological procedures performed on women detained at Irwin County Detention Center. After reviewing more than 3,200 pages of records from 19 women, these experts said that “many women either underwent abdominal surgery or were pressured to have a surgery that was not medically indicated and to which they did not consent.”
“None of the women appear to have received adequate informed consent,” they added.
Scott Grubman, Amin’s attorney, said that the records reviewed for the report were “severely incomplete, at best.” There are signed consent forms for Amin’s patients, Grubman said; VICE News has independently found four consent forms signed by women who were detained at Irwin.
Although the experts acknowledged that they had not seen all of the patients’ medical records, one of the report’s authors, Dr. Ted Anderson of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told VICE News that they had seen enough to make their conclusions.
“Consent is actually a conversation that you have, and not a piece of paper,” Anderson said. “There are documents we got from the detention center in which the patients report asking why they had surgery and say they don’t understand what happened. That clearly indicates there was not informed consent.”
Anderson told the Washington Post that, in one instance, Amin may have saved a woman’s life. That detail isn’t included in the report submitted to Congress.
Yanira said she first saw Amin in February, after she felt a rush of hot flashes and tiredness. She wanted something like the estrogen medication that she had taken since 2014, when she had a hysterectomy; medical records reviewed by VICE News confirm that she made this request.
During her first visit to Amin’s office, Yanira thought the examination would only include questions about her hysterectomy. Instead, Amin told Yanira that he wanted to perform a transvaginal ultrasound.
“He said it was standard procedure that he liked to do on, you know, his patients when he first evaluates them,” Yanira said. She agreed to the procedure.
“He then inserted some monitor to do the ultrasound and he jammed it in there, you know, very rough, without even being gentle or anything, just jammed it up in there like it was nothing,” she said. “And he caused me a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort.”
VICE News has reviewed medical records that confirm Yanira underwent an ultrasound through Amin’s practice. After that ultrasound, Yanira said that Amin performed an exam involving his fingers, which was also painful.
“I started squirming away,” Yanira said. “I told him that it hurts, and he told me to just hold still, for me to scoot back down. And I told him I couldn't because it was hurting me so much and he then withdrew his fingers.”
Afterward, Yanira said that she bled for days. She needed to take ibuprofen.
Yanira said she once again ran out of her medication in September, and she went back to Amin. Although she just wanted more of her medication, Yanira said she was convinced to also undergo a Pap smear.
“When he grabbed his tool to do my Pap smear, he just again, he just like, shoved it in there, like it was nothing,” Yanira said.
Grubman initially declined to comment unless Yanira signed off on a legal waiver to let Amin speak about her case, citing federal privacy laws. After VICE sent him a waiver that had been provided by Yanira's legal team, Grubman declined to accept it unless he communicated with “the patient or the patient’s representative.” When a member of Yanira’s legal team (who was a law student working on the case) sent him the waiver, Grubman once again refused to accept it, saying that he needed to speak directly to a lawyer.
“It would then take at least one week for us to be able to do a thorough review of the relevant records, so you’re not going to have an answer by your deadline,” Grubman told VICE News in an email.
“Dr. Amin treats all patients with care and respect, and any allegation of improper treatment is simply false,” Grubman said. “Dr. Amin continues to cooperate fully with investigators and is confident that those investigations will clear him of any and all wrongdoing.”
After being charged with a minor drug offense, Yanira's case was concluded in October 2019. She pleaded guilty, she said, because she didn’t have money for a lawyer and believed she would go to jail for 90 days. But in January, she was transferred to ICE detention.
“I don't think it's the way that we deserve to be treated or disrespected or neglected,” Yanira told VICE News Sunday of her experience at Irwin. “We're not animals. We're still human beings.
“We deserve to get another chance. Everybody, you know, a lot of people get second chances. Why can't we?”