Dozens Of Women Allege Unwanted Surgeries And Medical Abuse In ICE Custody More women are coming forward to say they were pressured to have reproductive surgeries they did not want or understand, offering a glimpse into alleged medical abuses at an ICE detention center.

Dozens Of Women Allege Unwanted Surgeries And Medical Abuse In ICE Custody

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The number of immigrant women who say they were pressured to have reproductive surgeries they did not want or understand is growing. More than 30 women have now come forward with allegations of medical abuse, all of them current or former detainees at a detention center in Georgia. NPR's Joel Rose spoke to one of them.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: One former detainee says she was already in a hospital gown, waiting to be wheeled into surgery when she began to suspect something was very wrong. Jaromy Floriano Navarro thought she was getting an operation to remove a cyst on her ovary until the driver who brought her to the hospital said otherwise.

JAROMY FLORIANO NAVARRO: She's just like, you know you're having a hysterectomy, right? And I looked at her, and I was, like, in shock because I knew what that meant.

ROSE: That surgery didn't happen because Floriano tested positive for COVID-19 and was quickly sent back to the Irwin County Detention Center in rural Georgia. But the confusion continued. Floriano says a nurse at the detention center told her she was not going to have her uterus removed, but she was having another procedure known as a dilation and curettage or D&C. Floriano says she had never discussed or approved that with the doctor either.

FLORIANO NAVARRO: I felt like I had no control of my immigration case, of my body, of my health, of my life, for that matter. And that's why I spoke up - because they were trying to mess with my body.

ROSE: Floriano is one of more than a dozen undocumented immigrants who've now come forward to allege that they were coerced to have unwanted or unnecessary gynecological procedures while they were detained in Irwin County. Lawyers are seeking class action status for these women and others who allege serious medical abuse. In court papers filed late Monday, they allege that immigration authorities knew about complaints against a local gynecologist, Dr. Mahendra Amin. Azadeh Shahshahani is a lawyer with Project South, a nonprofit in Atlanta.

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: ICE knew about the abuses as far back as 2018, and they continue to ignore the complaints.

ROSE: A spokesman for ICE says the agency cannot comment on pending litigation and that ICE is cooperating with an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security. A lawyer for Dr. Amin says he denies the allegations. The Irwin County Detention Center is run by a private contractor, LaSalle Corrections, which also denies any wrongdoing. This case is unusual. Complaints about the medical care in ICE facilities are usually about not enough treatment. There is a special branch of ICE known as the Health Services Corps that oversees medical care at private facilities like this one.


KEN CUCCINELLI: Every single procedure has to be approved by our medical teams.

ROSE: That's Ken Cuccinelli, a top immigration official at DHS. He talked about the allegations in a phone interview with WDUN, a talk radio station in Georgia.


CUCCINELLI: We review each one of these, which is why the allegation was so unusual - is because it would be essentially impossible for something like what was alleged to go on without ICE knowing about it.

ROSE: Lawyers for the women allege that ICE did know, but instead of taking action against the doctor or the detention facility, they say ICE retaliated against the women who complained. They say ICE has tried to deport at least eight women who have come forward in the case. Lawyers have been able to stop some of these deportations but not all of them.

FLORIANO NAVARRO: They punished me. They punished me for speaking up. They tried to shut me up by deporting me.

ROSE: Jaromy Floriano Navarro was deported in September two days after the publication of a whistleblower report that brought national attention to the story. She's now in Mexico, a country she left when she was 8 years old. She's now 28 and has two U.S. citizen children, ages 8 and 2, who are living with Floriano's mother in South Carolina.

FLORIANO NAVARRO: I talk to my baby. She sends me videos telling me she loves me. I talk to my 8-year-old. I help her with her homework. We talk all day.

ROSE: Floriano hopes this lawsuit will help her see them again.

FLORIANO NAVARRO: I would like justice. I hope that they bring us back to the United States and that they protect us, that they give us a checkup at the doctor because we have been abused.

ROSE: ICE denies retaliating against anyone. Last month, the government lawyer agreed that the agency would not deport anyone else involved in the case until a hearing in January. But this month, the government asked to withdraw from that agreement. ICE now says it won't deport any of the original plaintiffs in the case. It won't make any promises about anyone else.

Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington.

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