A group of 30 US senators and 75 congressmen and women have demanded an immediate halt to deportations of women who claim they were abused by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) gynecologist, as the furore over alleged abused in Ice custody continues to grow.
The development comes as some of the women recounted their experiences to the Guardian, two of them detailing the painful and invasive procedures they were subjected to by Dr Mahendra Amin in Georgia. Both women were then listed for deportation days after they spoke out against the doctor, in what their lawyers say is a “pattern of intimidation” designed to silence abuse claims.
The members of Congress, including Senators Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, signed a petition to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, seeking to prevent Amin’s accusers from being deported.
At least 43 women at Irwin county detention center (ICDC), in Georgia, have now alleged misconduct by Amin. He is accused of operating on migrant women without their consent or performing procedures that were medically unnecessary and potentially endangered their ability to have children.
Amin’s lawyer denies the doctor did anything wrong.
Six of the 43 women have been deported since they spoke out about abuse. Another seven women have been listed for deportation.
The 105 members of Congress said the deportation of alleged victims and witnesses in an ongoing investigation into Amin amounted to a “destruction of evidence”, and urged federal agencies to stop deportations.
“At least 18 women who were patients of Dr Mahendra Amin remain detained at ICDC,” the officials said. “Any deportation of these witnesses constitutes interference with the investigation.”
An spokesperson said: “Ice is fully cooperating with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation … Any implication that Ice is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false.”
Allegations of abuse by Amin, who served as a gynecologist for the Irwin center for several years, have rocked Ice and shocked America since a whistleblower filed a complaint in mid-September.
Since then a number of women allegedly abused by Amin have come forward. But lawyers for the women say they have been subjected to a “pattern of intimidation” by Ice after speaking out.
In the last month seven women, all long-term detainees at the Irwin center, found they were threatened with deportation days after it emerged they had spoken out against Amin.
One of those women, Yanira Yesenia Oldaker, told the Guardian she was taken to Columbus airport, in west Georgia, and was waiting to be flown out of the US when her lawyers managed to appeal her deportation order, allowing her to remain and give evidence.
Oldaker, who has been held at the Irwin center since January, saw Amin twice, the first time for a transvaginal ultrasound and a finger examination in February, which she says was conducted without her consent.
“The examination was horrible,” Oldaker said. “He hurt me mentally and physically. He caused me a lot of pain.”
Oldaker said she told Amin what he was doing was painful, and asked him to stop, but he did not. After the procedure she discovered she was bleeding and had vaginal discharge.
In September, Oldaker saw Amin again for a refill of hormone medication. Instead, Oldaker said Amin performed a pap smear on Oldaker without using lubrication on certain equipment. After the procedure she said it took her a week before she could sit down because of the pain.
Her experience worsened after she submitted sworn testimony about Amin. On 5 November, lawyers say, Oldaker’s name and the names of 16 other women who had spoken out against Amin were shared with the Department of Justice, which oversees Ice, and other agencies.
Two days later, on 7 November, Oldaker’s commissary – the account detainees use to buy medicine, personal cleaning products, and make phone calls – was “zeroed out”, a telltale sign that a detainee is about to be deported.
On 9 November, a Monday, Oldaker was woken up at 5am by Ice officers, who told her she was being deported. She was handcuffed and loaded into a van, and driven straight to Columbus airport, 150 miles west of Irwin county.
After two hours waiting in the parking lot at Columbus airport, two Ice officers approached, and took her out of the van. Oldaker’s lawyers had scrambled to stop her being deported, and had narrowly succeeded. Oldaker was told she would remain in the US – albeit in the Irwin detention center – because she was “part of a major investigation”.
“It’s just been an emotional rollercoaster,” Oldaker said. She was brought to the US from Mexico when she was three and, now 36, has spent 33 years in America.
Oldaker has an 11-year-old daughter who she worries she will never see again if she is deported to Mexico – a country she has never been to since she left as a child.
“She’s already suffering depression and panic attacks since my incarceration started,” Oldaker said.
“She’s my heart, and I haven’t seen her in over a year. It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do, to not see my little girl.”
Elora Mukhurjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, is representing Oldaker. Mukhurjee and a group of fellow immigration lawyers filed the testimonies of about 20 women, who allege they were subjected to or witnesses to non-consensual gynecological procedures, medical abuse and retaliation while held at Irwin county detention center, in a federal court on Thursday, as well as evidence from two doctors who say Amin carried out unnecessary procedures.
Mukhurjee said that by attempting to deport women involved in the investigation into Amin, Ice is “destroying the evidence”.
“Both the doctor and the entire system of people who work at the Irwin county detention center, Ice and its contractors are complicit in these medical atrocities,” Mukhurjee said.
They thought that the women would be silenced and that this information would never come to light
“They thought that the women would be silenced and that this information would never come to light.
“And now there is uncontroverted medical evidence, confirming that women detained at the Irwin county detention center have been subjected to non-consensual, invasive, unnecessary gynecological procedures, Ice is trying to undermine a meaningful investigation.”
The lawyers are seeking U visa certification for the women – a status which states they have been the victim of a crime or been helpful in prosecuting a crime – which can help an individual on a path to lawful citizenship.
The experiences of women at the Irwin center bear a number of similarities.
A woman treated by Amin while at Irwin county detention center, who asked to be identified as JRR, was taken to see the doctor in July after she requested a birth control injection to regulate her menstruation.
Amin determined she needed further examination, JRR said. She said the doctor did not ask for consent when he inserted a device, with inadequate lubrication, into her vagina. She was told she would receive some results in two weeks.
When she returned to Irwin, JRR was in severe pain, and said there was a foul odor from her vagina. She never received any results, or heard from Amin again.
JRR, who is married to a US citizen and is the mother of five children, two of whom are US citizens, joined Oldaker and the other women in testifying about her treatment.
Her name, like Oldaker’s, was on the list handed to federal prosecutors on 5 November, and like Oldaker, JRR found out two days later that she was scheduled to be deported.
Sarah Sherman Stokes, a law professor at Boston University and associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, and her team managed to prevent the deportation, but on 17 November, JRR was again listed for deportation, this time the next day, despite a pending order for her to remain in the US and be part of the investigation into Amin.
After a frantic, late-night effort, JRR’s lawyers again managed to halt the deportation.
“[Their attempt at] deporting me after I went to the doctor, deporting me with this mentality, I’m very, very worried, that’s the truth. I feel very bad,” JRR said.
“It hurts me a lot and my heart is destroyed for my children. For me what I most want is for my children to live in this country.”
JRR and Oldaker’s experience of a last minute deportation effort has been mirrored by at least five other women held at Irwin.
“Perhaps if you looked at each of these cases in isolation you might think that perhaps this is a co-incidence, that shortly their details were shared with the government, their deportations were rapidly scheduled,” Sherman Stokes said.
“But if you zoom out, even a little bit, it becomes very clear that this is a pattern.
“It feels like part of a larger pattern of intimidation and an effort to directly intervene in these women’s ability to speak about their experiences and the abuses they suffered.”
Amin has denied doing anything wrong and his lawyer, Scott Grubman, has called the allegations “false”.
In a statement to the Guardian Grubman said: “Multiple independent witnesses who were physically present in the examination and/or operating room while Dr Amin provided treatment to Ice detainees have expressly refuted, in writing and under oath, allegations of any rough or inappropriate treatment. Dr Amin has always provided the care he deems appropriate based on his medical training, and has always treated his patients with the utmost care and respect. Dr Amin is cooperating in multiple ongoing investigations and looks forward to those investigations clearing him of any such wrongdoing.”