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September 17, 2020

A group of nonprofit legal advocacy groups and a nurse alleged this week that a private prison in Georgia has been sending the detained migrants housed there by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to get coerced or unwanted hysterectomies or other gynecological procedures ending in sterilization.

The complaints relied mostly on second-hand stories, but since its release Monday, lawyers representing at least 17 women have come forward with stories about forced hysterectomies or other unwanted medical procedures at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, according to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). One of them, Pauline Binam, was nearly deported on Wednesday. She and another woman who says she was sterilized without consent spoke with MSNBC's Chris Hayes for his Wednesday night broadcast.

Binam, 30, was on the tarmac at Chicago O'Hare on a flight for Cameroon, a country she hasn't lived in since moving to the U.S. at age 2, when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) intervened. ICE confirmed to NPR that Binam is still in the U.S. but said a paperwork issue, not congressional action, kept her from being deported. Lee told Hayes she's relieved Binam is still available to testify before Congress but concerned that other potential witnesses have already been deported, hampering an investigation.

"It felt like ICE was trying to rush through her deportation," Jayapal told NPR. "I can't say that for certain, but all of this is extremely troubling." More than 170 members of Congress have asked for an expedited investigation by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general. "This feels particularly egregious because it is obviously invasive, reproductive surgery," Jayapal said. "And so for every woman in particular across America, this sends chills up our spine."

Dr. Mahendra Amin, the offsite gynecologist alleged to have performed the unwanted procedures, denied wrongdoing through a lawyer. ICE said "a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed" without informed consent on a detainee. Lawyers for migrants say they have been complaining about medical treatment at Irwin County Detention Center for years. "Detention itself takes so much away from a person's life," Binam's lawyer, Vân Huynh, told NPR. "And then for her to have gone through this experience while she was in immigration detention just robs her of so much more than her time." Peter Weber

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