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When explosive allegations about immigrant women claiming to have undergone unwanted hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures came to light, one of these detainees was put on a plane back to his home country.
Pauline Binam was almost deported on Wednesday for U.S. immigration and customs to Cameroon, a country she left when she was 2 years old. Binam, now 30, was on the tarmac when members of Congress said they intervened.
“It seemed to me that ICE was trying to rush through his deportation,” said Rep. Pramile Jayapal, a Washington State Democrat. “I can’t say for sure, but all of this is extremely troubling.”
Members of Congress are calling for an investigation into allegations of immigrant women saying they were subjected to medical procedures without their consent while detained at an ICE facility in Georgia. Some women say they underwent hysterectomies or other surgeries that left them sterile.
Jayapal, a member of the Judicial Committee of the House, wants Binam in the US so he can tell his story to investigators. More than 170 U.S. lawmakers have signed a letter calling for an investigation by the inspector general of Homeland Security and want investigators to report on the status of the investigation next Friday.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
ICE confirmed that Binam is still in the country and denied any link between his allegations and his planned deportation. ICE says it was withdrawn from the plane due to a paperwork with the Cameroonian government, not by congressional intervention.
In a statement, ICE says all detained women receive routine gynecological care and that “a medical procedure such as a hysterectomy would never be performed” without informed consent.
Binam is one of the immigrant women who complained about the care they received while detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga.
The first allegations came to light in a whistleblower complaint filed this week by a nurse at the facility, filed with the help of the nonprofit South Project and other immigrant rights groups. The complaint also alleges insufficient medical care and a failure in the COVID-19 test of detained immigrants.
Since then, independent attorneys for several other women have filed similar complaints about unnecessary medical procedures, including hysterectomies. Jayapal says the total is now at least 17.
“This feels particularly blatant because it’s obviously invasive and reproductive surgery,” Jayapal said. “And so for all women, particularly all over America, that makes us warm our spine.”
Binam’s lawyer, Vân Huynh, says his client sought treatment for an irregular menstrual cycle and thought he received a routine procedure known as dilation and curettage last year to remove uterine tissue. .
“When he woke up from the surgery, the doctor told him that they had to remove one of the fallopian tubes,” says Huynh, with Georgia’s Latino Alliance for Nonprofit Human Rights, which also went help prepare the whistleblower complaint.
“Of course, Pauline was very upset and was horrified that this would have happened without her consent,” Huynh says.
Huynh says the long-term medical implications are unclear, but that the procedure could prevent Binam from conceiving a child.
“Detention itself takes a lot out of a person’s life,” Huynh says. “And after she’s had that experience while she was in immigration detention it just steals a lot more from her than her time.”
Huynh says Binam complained to the detention center staff, but those complaints went nowhere.
Irwin is operated by a for-profit company, LaSalle Corrections, which did not respond to any requests for comment.
Immigration lawyer Elizabeth Matherne says several of her clients complained about the gynecological care they received while detained at Irwin and that she filed her complaints with the detention center executives.
But Matherne says operators at Irwin and other private detention centers “constantly ignore” complaints about medical care.
“They act constantly as if any complaint is just histrionic,” he said. “It’s ripe for exploitation, right? Because there’s no proper supervision. There’s no adequate level of humanity.”
Immigration lawyers have been raising concerns about medical conditions for years. Matherne says he is relieved that the public is paying attention, even if they needed shocking allegations like these to make it a reality.