Mexico investigating whistleblower's claims that hysterectomies were performed on migrant women at ICE detention centre

'If confirmed, it's a major issue and measures must be taken,' says foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard

James Crump
Wednesday 23 September 2020 19:02
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Mexico is investigating claims made by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whistleblower that Mexico women were sterilised at a US detention centre.

Last week, Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Centre (ICDC) in Georgia, filed a complaint alongside advocacy groups including, Project South, to the Office of the inspector general (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security, according to Law and Crime.

In the complaint, Ms Wooten claimed that several Spanish-speaking women at the facility had come forward to Project South to report what they felt was an excessive amount of female detainees forced into having hysterectomies, which involves removing part of or all of the uterus, according to the BBC.

“When she (Ms Wooten) talked to them about the surgery, the women reacted confused when explaining why they had one done. The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were trying to tell themselves 'it’s going to be OK,’” the complaint read.

Speaking about the detainees’ confusion around the surgery, Ms Wooten wrote: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

On Tuesday, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard revealed that the Mexican government is investigating the claims made by Ms Wooten.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Ebrard said: “We are already in contact with six (Mexican women) who could potentially have been subjected to this type of procedure.”

He added: “If confirmed, it's a major issue and measures must be taken.”

On Monday, Mexico president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said that the government could take legal action against the US if the allegations are confirmed by its investigation.

ICE health services director Dr Ada Rivera told the New York Times that the agency “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

She added that decisions “are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel”, and that the procedure “would never be performed against a detainee's will”.

An investigation into the allegations has been called for by more than 150 members of the US Congress, including house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“If true, the appalling conditions described at an ICE detention facility — including allegations of mass hysterectomies performed on immigrant women — are a staggering abuse of human rights. @DHSOIG must immediately investigate these allegations,” Ms Pelosi wrote.

Responding to the claims on Twitter, Democratic representative Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote: “The fact of the matter is the United States has engaged in a program of mass human rights violations targeting immigrants.

“This includes mass child separation, systemic sexual assault of people in detention, kangaroo-court procedures, & more. Our country must atone for it all.”

Democratic senator Ed Markey tweeted: “Abolish ICE” in reference to the report, while Democratic representative Mark Pocan wrote: “This is horrifying. Forced sterilizations are eugenics & a human rights abuse that must be fully investigated immediately.”

In the complaint, Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with Project South, called for an immediate investigation into the allegations of abuse.

“For years, advocates in Georgia have raised red flags about the human rights violations occurring inside the Irwin County Detention Centre,” she said.

“Ms Wooten's whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years,” Ms Shahshahani added.

In response to the allegations, ICE shared a statement with Law and Crime, where the agency wrote: “US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the inspector general, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the US Department of Homeland Security.”

The agency added: “ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results.

“That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate scepticism they deserve.”

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