ATLANTA — Congressional leaders said this week immigrants who allege they were subjected to forced hysterectomies at a Georgia detention center must not be deported by ICE.
A coalition of congressional committees has called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the deportation of any detainees involved in multiple pending investigations into medical maltreatment at the Irwin County Detention Center.
A whistleblower complaint filed by former detention center nurse Dawn Wooten in September outlined allegations of “inhumane" medical practices and neglect at the center which houses immigrants detained by ICE — including mass hysterectomies performed on detained women without informed consent.
In a letter dated Nov. 12, senior members of a number of congressional committees outlined multiple attempts by ICE to deport victims of and witnesses to the medical abuse at the Georgia detention center.
While a number of investigations are being conducted into the complaint through the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Inspector General, the letter states actions taken by ICE “fit a pattern of obstruction.”
“Deporting women who may be key witnesses in these proceedings would be an obstruction of justice and an abuse of authority,” the letter reads.
Not long after the whistleblower complaint made national headlines, ICE nearly deported 30-year-old Pauline Binam. A detainee who came forward about an unwanted gynecological procedure performed on her while at the Irwin County Detention Center. Almost sent back to Cameroon — a country she left at the age of 2 — her deportation was halted after lawmakers intervened.
The Nov. 12 letter outlines other instances of victims and witnesses being notified they will be deported — including a detainee who described “overly aggressive” treatment from Dr. Mahendra Amin, the doctor at the center of the whistleblower complaint.
The Associated Press reported Nov. 11 that ICE has already deported six former patients who complained about Amin and at least seven more have been notified of their removal.
“We call on ICE to immediately cease efforts to deport any individual who may be witness to or victims of the medical malpractice alleged at ICDC,” the letter reads, and asks ICE officials work in coordination with pending investigations to identify detainees who should not be deported.
Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project senior counsel and a lawyer representing Wooten, noted that once deported, witnesses and victims may not be available for testimony.
“By deporting these women, the government is risking — indeed facilitating — the loss of critical witnesses if law enforcement is unable to reach them in a different country,” she said in a statement. "Like Ms. Wooten, they are now suffering retaliation for speaking up about unconscionable abuses suffered by immigrants in ICE detention in a seeming effort to both punish and hide evidence of medical misconduct.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, the Project South legal and advocacy director who also represents Wooten, called on Congress to further investigate ICE’s alleged attempts to deport witnesses.
"It is shameful for ICE to actively try to erase the evidence of human rights violations and get rid of the survivors and witnesses, instead of aiding in the investigation,” she said in a statement. "Congress must investigate and immediately put an end to this injustice.”
When asked for comment, an ICE spokesperson told CNHI the agency is “fully cooperating” with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Inspector General investigations and has been notifying federal officials of any movement of witnesses or victims.
"Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false,” ICE officials said in a statement.