Opinion: America’s practice of forced sterilizations must end with the help of continuous news coverage

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Opinions Editor

Vicki Lei

An immigrant detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement likened their detention centers to experimental concentration camps, according to a report by Project South, which was founded as the Institute to Eliminate Poverty & Genocide in 1986.

The comparison came after she had talked to five different women detained between October and December 2019, all of whom were reportedly confused about why they were given hysterectomies.

“It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the immigrant told Project South.

Even after licensed practical nurse Dawn Wooten blew the whistle Sept. 14 with Project South on the alleged forced sterilizations, these stories faded from the news spotlight as other stories, such as soaring coronavirus case numbers, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and coverage of the 2020 presidential election, were given more prominence.

But these stories about forced sterilization deserve the media’s attention. Any report of a violation of this magnitude deserves more than a week in the news.

This is how genocide happens: The frog is placed in a pot of water and does not notice as the environment heats up around it until it is too late—when the water is boiling. Adolf Hitler did not erect his concentration camps overnight. Nor were the detention centers erected overnight.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came under fire in 2019 when she likened the detention centers to concentration camps. Her opposition said she was demeaning Holocaust survivors with the comparison, but what would diminish their struggles more would be to forget the lessons we learned from such a recent atrocity.

There are clear signs of genocide happening within the walls of those camps and outside of them—from racial profiling to attempts to prevent the procreation of Latinx people. These incidents and others mirror the steps toward genocide detailed by the Anti-Defamation League—a social justice organization founded to stop the defamation of Jewish people—in the Pyramid of Hate.

The Pyramid is a diagram that shows the steps to genocide from “harmless” gags to attempts at eradicating an entire sect of the population.

It starts with biases, like stereotyping, similar to when President Donald Trump said “[Mexican immigrants are] bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” in 2015.

Eventually, societal actions shift to discrimination and violence. In 2017, though Hispanic citizens accounted for 16% of the American population, they comprised 23% of prison inmates. Meanwhile, hate crime offenses against Latinx people in the U.S. rose from 525 in 2017 to 644 in 2018, according to FBI hate crime statistics.

Finally, the last rung on the pyramid is genocide—“the act or intent to deliberately and systematically annihilate an entire people.”

That is where we are headed with ICE Detention Centers, which have a majority Latinx population. Eugenics is the study of how to deliberately breed human beings to increase the chance that only the most “desirable” traits will be passed on to the next generations. This is designed to eventually lead to a “master race,” and there is a distinct possibility that the detention centers’ hysterectomies could have this goal in mind.

That is why we cannot let these surgeries go unnoticed. Issues like these escalate when power goes unchallenged.

This is not America’s first go at eugenics. Nearly 7,600 forced sterilizations targeting BIPOC and differently-abled people took place in North Carolina from 1929 to 1974, according to the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.

All of this is to say that America is not above the “systematically annihilate an entire people” phase in the Pyramid of Hate. From the day Christopher Columbus washed ashore that day in 1492 to the end of the American-Indian Wars in the early 20th century, less than a quarter of a million Indigenous people remained out of what was estimated to have been a population of 5 to 15 million.

Nurse Wooten’s story became old news in a week because following reporting in 2020 is like racing Usain Bolt—no one ever quite catches up. But that is exactly why it needs to be continuously reported on. We need to keep calling for an end to forced sterilizations, because they will not cease unless we continue to put pressure on the leaders of this country.