Why are women being unnecessarily sterilised at a US immigration centre?

Disturbing facts have come to light in a for-profit immigration centre. What is the motivation behind these crimes against women prisoners?

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Most people, given a few facts, can work out that any activity or institution run on the basis of private interest will most likely be organised in the sole interests of the individual(s) who own that private interest. An ongoing situation in the state of Georgia, USA is once more serving to display this simple fact to the world.

We ask readers to try to keep track of the private interests on show in the following paragraphs:

The Irwin County detention centre is for the short to medium-term incarceration of women accused of being illegal entrants into the United States. It is an official US government Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre, but it is run on ICE’s behalf by private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

La Salle Corrections is paid to keep the inmates safe, secure, properly fed and healthy. Regarding the last point there – ie, healthy – LaSalle has a contract with Irwin County hospital, which in turn has contracts with some doctors. One of those doctors, Dr Mahendra Amin, who is the primary gynaecologist for the detainees, is also chief executive of MGA Health Management, a private company that began managing Irwin County hospital in 1996.

Unsurprisingly, Irwin County hospital has issued a statement asserting that Dr Amin “is a long-time member of the Irwin County hospital medical staff and has been in good standing for the entirety of his service to the Irwin County community”.

Now let us look at the allegations that have been made concerning the private interests of Dr Amin, the privately owned and run hospital, and the privately administered detention centre.

The ‘uterus collector’

Initially, a complaint was filed by nurse Dawn Wooten, who was employed at the detention centre, regarding some 20 or more detainees who had been operated on by an unnamed doctor (later identified as Dr Amin) and given full or partial hysterectomies during a six-year period. She believed many of them to be unnecessary, and among the other medical staff at the detention centre the nickname for Dr Amin was ‘the uterus collector’.

Ms Wooten was supported in reporting these possible crimes by concerned rights groups including Project South, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Georgia Detention Watch, the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Innovation Law Lab.

Advocates and lawyers for 19 of the women worked with the aforementioned groups to write up a report for the US Congress, and by 27 October, roughly five weeks from the date of nurse Wooten’s complaint, congressional findings were being presented in the Senate briefing following an independent medical review led by the Allgood Foundation.

As a result of these investigations, the number of detainees who have come forward to say that they too underwent or were pressured to undergo unnecessary treatments by Dr Amin in the last two years alone has risen to 57! (Number of women alleging misconduct by ICE gynaecologist nearly triples by John Washington and José Olivares, The Intercept, 27 October 2020)

This could be the tip of an iceberg whose true dimensions will never be known, given that many of the women who were previously detained at the centre have since been deported. (19 women allege medical abuse in Georgia immigration detention by Molly O’Toole, 22 October 2020)

The Allgood Foundation’s review, which was first reported in an LA Times article, was conducted by nine board-certified Obstetrics-Gynaecologists and two nursing experts, who between them reviewed over 3,200 pages of medical records for 19 of the women who had alleged medical misconduct by Amin.

Their report, found “a disturbing pattern of aggressive treatment, including ‘overcalling’ the need for invasive surgeries, unwarranted pressure to undergo surgery, and a failure to obtain informed consent”. (The Intercept, op cit)

Many of the women sent to Dr Amin didn’t speak English and were not provided with an interpreter. Some of them report being given unknown drugs and injections as well as being operated on in some cases. It is known that Dr Amin gave some detainees Depo-Provera, a hormonal birth control injection that can have serious side effects, without their consent.

One woman, after her operation and shot of Depo-Provera, was “still unclear what exactly had happened to her body”. Others reported waking up to find that they “had been emptied out”.

Since the original complaint was made, the centre has not sent any of its detainees to see Dr Amin, meaning that a lot of women in the centre, along with others who have already been deported, have had no follow-up gynaecological care for any ongoing treatment or problem.

ICE has deported at least five women who had been seen by Dr Amin and more may be deported shortly. According to the Senate briefing: “ICE, LaSalle, and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) are ensuring fewer witnesses are able to participate in the pending federal investigation.”

Senator Jeff Merkley has pointed out: “Advocates have shared with my team that many of the women who questioned Dr Amin’s advice were quickly deported, and that many others at the facility are now fearful of seeking medical care at all … We need a full accounting of what has been done to the women at Irwin, so we can hold perpetrators of any horrific actions accountable, and give the American people the answers they deserve.” (The Intercept, op cit)

Just in case anyone should form the opinion that the events at Irwin detention centre are a one-off, a bad apple, it is worth noting that immigrant detainees across the United States have been fighting for their release from ICE detention over another health issue, alleging insufficient measures to protect them from the coronavirus. (‘A silent pandemic’: nurse at ICE facility blows the whistle on coronavirus dangers by José Olivares and John Washington, The Intercept, 14 September 2020)

Six detainees have died from Covid-19 and almost 5,800 have contracted the virus since February owing to a total failure either to quarantine new arrivals or to isolate detainees exhibiting symptoms of the virus.

As things stand, we do not know if there was a policy of forced sterilisations at play in Irwin or whether financial gain (every operation and treatment has to be paid for by the state) was the motivator, but we do know that private medicine, private prisons and ICE do not make a good mix for the wellbeing of anyone unfortunate enough to land in their ‘care’.

Once again, it can be seen that capitalism and the pursuit of profit create a logic of their own; one that is entirely at odds with the welfare of humanity.