In the year 2017 more than 60,000 people were sterilized because they were deemed unfit to reproduce. Many did not even know they were undergoing the procedure. It began at state prisons in Indiana and spread to two-thirds of the country, targeting people with mental illness, disabilities and anyone who exhibited “abnormal” behavior. This was considered common practice for two-thirds of the 20th century. Now, victims are seeking reparations.
In the middle of the 20th century between the 1920s and early ’50s, one-third of the sterilized population was in California. Viewed as a science for better breeding, eugenicists targeted minorities, most notably people with disabilities and people of color. The most radical state was California, which allowed anyone who was admitted to a mental institution to be sterilized. The law gave absolute power to the medical superintendents to exercise the practice.
This practice was also prevalent in creating legislation. Discriminating laws such as the Anti-Miscegenation laws and the Immigration Act of 1924 targeted minorities such as Mexicans who were of what was called the “lower racial level” or “immigrants of an undesirable type.” The U.S. government set quotas for how many immigrants from specific countries could be allowed in the country. Latinos were 23 percent more likely to be sterilized, and in total, people of Latin descent — both men and women — were almost 60 percent more likely to be sterilized.
Justification for this practice runs along the lines of the argument for population control. It saved money for the state and it also served as a remedy for social issues such as poverty. Nicole Novak and Natalie Lira wrote in The Conversation, “The eugenics era also echoes in the broader cultural and political landscape of the U.S. today. Latina women’s reproduction is repeatedly portrayed as a threat to the nation. Latina immigrants in particular are seen as hyperfertile. Their children are sometimes called ‘anchor babies’ and described as a burden on the nation.”
There is a bill floating around the California state house that could bring justice to those who were sterilized against their will. Penned by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, the Eugenics Sterilization Compensation Program would reward living victims of the state-sponsored sterilization. The exact figures are yet to be agreed upon, but a half decade ago North Carolina gave away $10 million while Virginia in 2015 allocated $25,000 per victim. With 800 victims still alive in California, Skinner hopes survivors will have the strength to speak up.