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Migrant women file class-action lawsuit for alleged medical abuse at ICE detention center

About 40 women filed sworn testimony in the case, "revealing a relentless pattern of unnecessary and non-consensual medical procedures, including unwanted gynecological surgeries and other non-consensual medical interventions," according to a statement.
Image: Dawn Wooten
Dawn Wooten, at a news conference in Atlanta, Ga., protesting conditions at the Irwin County Detention Center.Jeff Amy / AP file

About 40 migrant women who were held at a Georgia detention center have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging they were subjected to medical abuse through nonconsensual or unnecessary procedures while in the facility.

The complaint, filed late Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, also claims women at the Irwin County Detention Center were retaliated against for speaking out against Dr. Mahendra Amin, of Ocilla, Georgia, who has been accused of the medical abuse.

About 40 women filed sworn testimony in the case, "revealing a relentless pattern of unnecessary and non-consensual medical procedures, including unwanted gynecological surgeries and other non-consensual medical interventions," according to a statement released with the complaint.

The filing also claims Irwin staff had been told about the medical abuse or neglect since at least 2018, but "nonetheless continued a policy or custom of sending women to be mistreated and abused by Respondent Amin."

The lawsuit said the women were retaliated against for speaking by such tactics as being placed in solitary confinement, being physically assaulted or deported or nearly deported. The United States has already deported several of Amin's former patients.

The 160-page filing "calls for an immediate end to retaliation against women for speaking out, compensation for the harms they have suffered, and writs from the court requiring ICE to make the women available to fully participate in the lawsuit, or alternatively, to release the women from the detention center," according to the statement referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The advocates who filed the suit are also asking President-elect Joe Biden's administration to close the detention center and investigate those who knew about the alleged abuses.

The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the alleged mistreatment, and the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general is also investigating the case.

ICE said in a statement Tuesday morning it is unable to comment on pending litigation. "Additionally, all these matters are currently being investigated by the DHS OIG. ICE is fully cooperating with that investigation," the agency said.

LaSalle Corrections, the private company that operates the detention center, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department and a lawyer for Amin also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"We are seeking an immediate end to the egregious retaliation against the women who spoke out against the abuse, release of the women who have suffered medical abuse, and compensation for the harms that the survivors suffered," Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director at Project South and co-counsel on the lawsuit, said in a statement. "It is high time for this facility rife with human rights violations to be shut down and for ICE and LaSalle to be held accountable."

"The main demand has always been to shut this place down," she told NBC News, alleging years of medical abuse or neglect at the facility. "Human rights violations have been occurring at Irwin for a number of years and so there's no reason this facility should still be operating."

Amin was the subject of a Justice Department investigation in 2015 for making false claims to Medicaid and Medicare. As a result, he and other doctors involved paid $525,000 in a civil settlement, according to the Justice Department.

The doctor after a whistleblower complaint to the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security was filed in September by Dawn Wooten, who worked as a nurse inside the facility. She said in the complaint that detainees were not getting Covid-19 tests and other needed medical care.

In September, Scott Grubman, Amin's lawyer, "vehemently" denied the allegations against the doctor and called him a “highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia.”

LaSalle Corrections said in September statement it "has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of inappropriate behavior in our facilities and takes all allegations of such mistreatment seriously. Our company strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct at the ICDC," referring to the Irwin County Detention Center.

ICE has previously said that it is cooperating with the federal investigation into the claims and denied allegations of retaliation against the women.

“Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false,” the agency said in a November statement.