ICE Hit With FOIA Suit For Docs On Alleged Sterilization

Law360 (October 29, 2020, 9:31 PM EDT) -- Three nonprofits hit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in D.C. federal court Thursday that accuses the agency of ignoring their requests for records about "forced unnecessary" gynecological procedures allegedly carried out at a Georgia detention facility.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and Project South say that ICE failed to respond to their FOIA requests related to gynecological procedures conducted on those in ICE custody at the Irwin County Detention Center.

"ICE is wrongfully withholding records responsive to CREW's FOIA request," the complaint says. "By failing to timely release all requested records in full to CREW, ICE is in violation of FOIA."

The nonprofits are asking the judge to order ICE to immediately release the requested records.

The FOIA suit stems from a whistleblower complaint filed in September by Project South and other advocacy groups, which brought allegations over forced hysterectomies and other unnecessary medical procedures from testimony of a former nurse who worked at the Georgia facility and accounts from immigrant detainees.

More than 170 members of Congress have since demanded an investigation into the alleged forced sterilization practices in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, according to the latest suit.

Thursday's complaint details the FOIA requests submitted by the three groups, which primarily request records on ICE's policies and procedures related to gynecological medical procedures performed on immigrants detained at the facility. Other requested information included informed consent protocols for those undergoing a gynecological medical procedure.

The groups also requested records related to the gynecological procedures carried out by Mahendra Amin, the physician accused of allegedly performing the "forced unnecessary medical procedures" on at least 17 immigrant women at the Georgia detention center, according to the suit.

Counsel for Amin, who is not named in the suit, did not immediately respond to Law360's request for comment Thursday.

Counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told Law360 on Thursday that the group hopes to uncover what ICE knew and when regarding the alleged abuse at the Georgia facility.

"The records we seek will shed light on these and other abuses at ICE detention centers across the country, as well as why ICE's internal protocols failed to detect them," said Nikhel Sus, an attorney at CREW. "We are also seeking detailed complaint data about past instances of nonconsensual medical procedures at ICE detention centers, so we can get a better understanding of the scope of the problem."

Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, emphasized the importance of holding ICE accountable.

"Given what we have learned about the systematic violence against immigrants' bodies at Irwin, we need ICE to come clean about what is happening at facilities nationwide," Shahshahani told Law360. "Immigrants cannot have their bodily integrity at the mercy of ICE and the private prisons corporations the agency contracts with."

A spokesperson for ICE told Law360 that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is represented in-house by Nikhel S. Sus. The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild is represented in-house by Sirine Shebaya and Khaled Alrabe. Project South is represented in-house by Azadeh Shahshahani and Priyanka Bhatt.

Counsel information for the government was not immediately available.

The case is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington et al. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, case number 1:20-cv-03120, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

--Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Breda Lund.

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