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Mexico asks U.S. to "clarify" alleged hysterectomies on migrant women in ICE custody

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Mexico City — Mexico said Monday it had requested more information from the U.S. on medical procedures given to migrants in detention centers, after allegations that detained Mexican women were sterilized without their consent. Rights campaigners alleged two weeks ago that a number of hysterectomies had been carried out at a privately run detention center in Georgia.

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it sent a diplomatic note, asking the U.S. government "to clarify the situation, requesting information on the medical attention that Mexican citizens receive" at the Irwin County Detention Center.

The ministry said that consulate personnel had interviewed 18 Mexican women who are or were detained at the center, none of whom "claimed to have undergone a hysterectomy," an operation involving the removal of all or part of the uterus.

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The department added that seven of the women interviewed had been treated by the doctor accused of performing the sterilizations. Another of the women said she had undergone a gynecological operation, although there was nothing in her file to support that she consented to the procedure.

The women interviewed did not deny that they had been "victims of bad practices for different reasons," the foreign ministry said.

In an article published Tuesday, The New York Times said it had spoken to 16 women with concerns over gynecological treatment they had received while in custody at the Irwin detention facility and asked five independent gynecologists to review the available medical files on each women.

The Times said the independent doctors concluded that the area gynecologist used by the center, Dr. Mahendra Amin, had "consistently overstated the size or risks associated with cysts or masses attached to his patients' reproductive organs." 

The doctors who reviewed the medical files for The Times "noted that Dr. Amin seemed to consistently recommend surgical intervention, even when it did not seem medically necessary at the time and nonsurgical treatment options were available," the newspaper said.

Immigration Detention Georgia
Dawn Wooten, left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail, Sept. 15, 2020. Jeff Amy/AP

Mexico announced last week it was investigating the allegations of sterilizations, warning that such operations would be "unacceptable."

The allegations came from a whistleblower, a nurse at the center, where some detainees are held under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The nurse said that detained women told her they did not fully understand why they had to get a hysterectomy.

Project South, the Georgia Detention Watch, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network filed a complaint to the government on behalf of detained immigrants and the nurse.

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Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has called for an urgent investigation into allegations that at least 17 women were subjected to unnecessary gynecological procedures that she called "the most abhorrent of human rights violations."

ICE said when the lawsuit was filed that it does not comment on matters before the inspector general, but that it takes all allegations seriously.

"That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve," the agency said in a statement.

Dr. Ada Rivera, the top doctor at the agency, issued a statement saying the whistleblower accusations would be investigated by an independent office, "however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures."

"All female ICE detainees receive routine, age-appropriate gynecological and obstetrical health care, consistent with recognized community guidelines for women's health services," Rivera said. Her statement also said that, according to ICE data, two detainees at Irwin County Detention Center had had hysterectomies since 2018.

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