“It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” one woman said, talking about friends forced to undergo hysterectomies at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. They are immigrant women, many of whom fled violence to try for a better life in the U.S., and instead were locked up in immigration jails.
This week a whistleblower at the immigration jail, operated by LaSalle Corrections for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), came forward with this horrific news: Immigrant women, with little to no knowledge of the medical procedure, were forced to undergo unwanted hysterectomies—continuing in a dark legacy of forced sterilization by the U.S. government.
These are women held in U.S. immigrant detention while their immigration cases wind their way through the courts—and for them we hold a duty of care. Forced sterilization strips away bodily autonomy and humanity. Making the choice for women about their bodies, their potential to be mothers, and their future decisions is an unspeakable wrong.
In the wake of the news, the deafening silence from Christian conservatives and publications is telling. It speaks to a deep well of corrosive hypocrisy that picks and chooses which lives have value, and even more telling is the end result—only white lives seem to matter.
These horrifying reports prove that this hypocrisy is a core part of the administration’s aggressive white supremacist agenda; one that sees no problem with caging children, separating families, denying asylum protection to those who need it, and repeatedly terrorizing immigrants and their families through a series of executive orders and turbo-charged deportation police.
An “Ugly” History of Forced Sterilization
The United States has an ugly, and often hidden history of forced sterilization of immigrants, people of color, indigenous women, and anyone else seen as “unfit,” and therefore expendable, by the powers that be.
The 1924 Immigration Act, which imposed quotas on how many immigrants from various ethnicities and geographies could immigrate to the U.S., was borne out of the eugenics movement. The idea is as simple as it is vile: Through breeding and controls on the entry of “undesirables,” a “superior race” (read: white) could be born.
Following that, the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell, a 1927 case that to this day still has not been overturned, determined that coerced sterilization was allowed for a woman that the state determined was “feebleminded.”
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There is also a long history of the state sterilizing (against their will) those who are incarcerated. These same principles were borrowed by the Nazi party when Hitler killed, sterilized, or used his chosen targets for medical experiments and murder. All of this, of course, is an explicit expression of white supremacy.
Then as now, robbing people of their human rights and bodily autonomy is a supreme act of violence. These women came here asking us to help them, and instead we doubled their harms.
Also, many immigrants are still being held in immigration jails, increasing their risk of contracting COVID and the fact that their detention is optional, in the vast majority of cases. Our government is deciding to hold men and women (and children) in cages, because they dared to dream and thought the United States represented something we clearly do not.
A society has a choice about how we treat one another. These past several months have been a time for deep inspection of what care we owe one another, and we are falling far short. This perpetual decision to value one life over another makes monsters out of us all.
Far past the juncture of a moral crossroads, the administration has chosen the most evil, the most vile, and the most reprehensible of actions at every turn. But it is still our choice whether to follow, or not.
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