The Trump administration is trying to deport several women who allege they were mistreated by a Georgia gynecologist at an immigration detention center, according to their lawyers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has already deported six former patients who complained about Dr. Mahendra Amin, who has been accused of operating on migrant women without their consent or performing procedures that were medically unnecessary and potentially endangered their ability to have children. At least seven others at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, who had made allegations against the doctor have received word that they could soon be removed from the country, the lawyers said.
Hours after one detained woman spoke to federal investigators, she said ICE told her that it had lifted a hold on her deportation and she faced "imminent" removal.
Another woman was taken to a rural Georgia airport early Monday and told to sign deportation papers, only to be brought back to the facility as her lawyers sued in federal court.
They allege Amin performed operations that caused or worsened their pain without explaining what he was doing or giving them an alternative. Their stories fit a broader pattern of allegations made by detained women against Amin, some of them revealed in interviews with attorneys and medical records reviewed by The Associated Press. But there hasn't been evidence to support an initial claim that he performed a large number of hysterectomies.
The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general also is investigating.
Amin's lawyer, Scott Grubman, has previously denied the doctor did anything wrong and called him a "highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia." Amin has stopped seeing women at Irwin County Detention Center.
Immigrant advocates have urged federal investigators to examine not just the doctor but also the detention center and any role ICE had in sending patients to him.
While people who have been deported might still be able to serve as witnesses in a criminal or civil case, many end up in unstable countries or situations where it becomes difficult to maintain contact with them. The deportations are occurring in the last weeks of President Donald Trump's administration following his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.
"ICE is destroying the evidence needed for this investigation," said Elora Mukherjee, a Columbia University law professor who is working with several of the women.
ICE said it had notified the Homeland Security inspector general "about any planned transfers or removals of Irwin detainees who were former patients of Dr. Amin."
"Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false," the agency said in a statement.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Grubman declined to say whether the doctor had spoken to investigators.
Mbeti Ndonga, 37, was taken to Amin last year after seeking treatment for abdominal pain and excessive vaginal bleeding. She said she wanted a new prescription to continue treatment ordered by a previous doctor. Instead, she said, Amin insisted she have a procedure known as dilation and curettage, in which tissue is removed from the uterus as a treatment for excessive bleeding. Her medical records show she was also given a laparoscopy, in which incisions are made in the abdomen.
"He was adamant and said I must have surgery," Ndonga told AP.
When she awoke, she said Amin told her she would never be able to have children. It's unclear whether that's the case. She still suffers from bleeding and pain.
Ndonga has spoken twice to government investigators, most recently on Tuesday. "I told them that I was abused, tortured, dehumanized," she said.
Within hours of her first interview last week, Ndonga and her lawyers say she was told ICE had lifted a hold on her deportation and she could be sent to Kenya at any time.
"Mbeti's fear in answering the investigators' questions was that it would make her immigration case worse," Mukherjee said. "And within hours of the interview, her worst fears were realized."
Another woman was taken to see Amin in February after requesting estrogen patches to treat hot flashes, following a hysterectomy performed by another doctor in 2014. She asked to be identified only by her first name, Yanira, because she fears being targeted by criminals if deported to Mexico.
Yanira said Amin told her he would perform a vaginal ultrasound and that she would need a Pap smear, a test for cancer in which a doctor collects cells from a woman's cervix.
Both procedures caused her intense pain. After the Pap smear, Yanira said she noticed there was no lubrication on the tools Amin had used. She had trouble sitting for nearly a week.
"We are humans. We are women. We have feelings," she said. "Just because we are detained doesn't mean we should be treated like animals."
ICE didn't respond to questions about the two women, who were brought to the U.S. as young children. Ndonga was previously deported after being arrested for interference with government property, then apprehended by ICE after reentering the country, Mukherjee said.
Yanira entered immigration custody after being arrested for possession of less than a gram of cocaine or methamphetamine, criminal records show. Her attorneys notified the government Thursday that she wanted to talk to investigators about Amin. Early Monday, Yanira says she was driven to an airport to board a deportation flight. But another ICE agent approached to say she wouldn't be deported because her lawyers had intervened.
Grubman declined to comment, citing federal privacy law.
ICE policy instructs agents to "exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis" regarding the deportation of "victims of crime, witnesses to crime, and individuals pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints."
The agency said this week that it was "accommodating the interviews" done by government investigators. It added that once a detained migrant has exhausted all appeals, "they remain subject to a final order of removal ... and that order must be carried out."