'Unacceptable' if Mexicans subjected to medical abuse in U.S. custody, minister says

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico is interviewing at least six women who may have been subject to improper medical procedures, including hysterectomies, at a U.S. immigration detention center in Georgia, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard delivers a message to the media in Mexico City, Mexico, January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

If the improper procedures are confirmed, measures would have to be taken, Ebrard said, without giving details. He called the abuse described in a whistleblower’s complaint “unacceptable.”

“This has to be cleared up. If it is confirmed it would be a major issue and not only punished but also other measures would be taken,” he told a news conference.

He said officials had so far spoken to six women, and that there could be more cases.

A complaint by a whistleblower nurse alleged that detainees in the Georgia immigration detention facility had improperly received hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures.

The complaint did not specify the nationality of the affected detainees.

The nurse’s allegations were filed to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General last week by advocacy groups Project South and the Government Accountability Project.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has denied the allegations, which have shocked people across Latin America, from where many U.S. immigrants hail, and caused an outcry among Democratic lawmakers.

Interim ICE chief Tony Pham last week said the allegations deserve to be investigated quickly and added that “individuals found to have violated our policies and procedures should be held accountable.”

The DHS watchdog is investigating the complaint.

Reuters interviewed the nurse, Dawn Wooten, but could not independently confirm the claims of improper hysterectomies, a surgery to remove the uterus.

Wooten told Reuters that women who complained of heavy periods or asked for birth control would be sent to outside gynecologists and sometimes receive hysterectomies but that many did not fully understand what medical procedures were being ordered.

Last week 173 members of the U.S. Congress called for DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to open an immediate investigation into the reports, saying in a statement they were “horrified.”

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Matthew Lewis and Sonya Hepinstall