When a witness is deportable
Effective Compassion | Attorneys work to keep alleged victims of an accused OB-GYN in the country
by Charissa Koh
Posted 12/16/20, 02:40 pm
Two years into her detention at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., Pauline Binam experienced an irregular menstrual cycle and saw Dr. Mahendra Amin, an OB-GYN with a practice nearby.
The doctor said Binam, illegally brought to the United States from Cameroon as a toddler and detained because of shoplifting and larceny charges, needed a dilation and curettage (a surgical procedure commonly known as a “D&C”) to scrape tissue from her uterus to prevent excessive bleeding. When Binam woke from the procedure, she learned Amin had also removed one of her fallopian tubes because it was swollen.
Binam, 30, was shocked, according to attorney Van Huynh. “She hadn’t given her consent for him to proceed with that.” Women can still get pregnant with only one fallopian tube, but doctors with whom the Associated Press consulted said Amin should not have proceeded without getting Binam’s consent and confirming the tube was a problem.
On Sept. 14, a whistleblower filed a complaint against the Irwin County Detention Center and a doctor (identified in subsequent media reports as Amin), claiming he performed hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures on detainees without their consent. A day after the complaint, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tried to put Binam on a deportation flight. When two members of the U.S. House of Representatives intervened, ICE relented. Soon after, Binam was released on humanitarian grounds, but still must check in with ICE, The Intercept reported. Witness deportations have stopped until mid-January after pressure from lawmakers and attorneys.
Three federal agencies and two House committees are investigating conditions at the Irwin County Detention Center. Members of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform wrote ICE’s attempts to remove witnesses like Binam are “an obstruction of justice and an abuse of authority.” ICE claims it notifies the Office of the Inspector General before deporting any of Amin’s patients. “Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false,” the agency said.
By Nov. 11, ICE had already deported six women who complained about Amin, and seven others received notice that they would be deported soon. Their removals would make testifying more complicated: Many courts will only accept testimony from witnesses abroad who speak from a U.S. consulate, said Manoj Govindaiah, director of policy and government affairs at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. “I’ve been practicing for 15, 16 years, and I’ve never been able to get that to happen,” Govindaiah said.
A 2011 ICE prosecutorial memo instructed agents to use discretion in deporting people who are witnesses or have filed a civil rights complaint, but nothing holds ICE to following that internal policy. “In practice, we really have not seen that memo going into effect over the past couple of years,” Govindaiah said.
Some deportation attempts came soon after witnesses’ initial conversations with investigators, according to their lawyers. Tracie Klinke represents Ana Cajigal Adan, an Irwin County detainee who said Amin examined her roughly, did not explain what he was doing, and told her she had a cyst that required treatment. Later, a second OB-GYN told Adan she did not have a cyst. On Nov. 10, Adan spoke with federal investigators and then learned a week later that she’d be deported the next day, according to Klinke—who filed a temporary restraining order to keep Adan in the United States.
Klinke said about 25 women claimed to have had bad experiences with Amin. On Dec. 10, 10 women from the Irwin County Detention Center filed grievances with the Georgia Medical Composite Board against him, asking for the revocation of his medical license.
Meanwhile, Klinke said her client’s temporary restraining order has been consolidated with two similar cases and set for a hearing on Feb. 3: “We are trying to get ICE to say it will not deport these women who were patients of Dr. Amin.”
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Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.