In a complaint
filed with the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, a nurse who worked at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia reported concerns about a high rate of hysterectomies and alleged medical neglect there. Lawmakers are calling for an investigation and ICE is urging skepticism of what it calls "anonymous, unproven allegations."
As details emerge, Molina and other scholars say they see this week's allegations as the latest chapter in a long and troubling history.
The history of forced sterilization in the US dates back more than a century
"This could be seen as a recent episode in a much longer trajectory of sterilization abuse and reproductive injustice," says Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan.
Indiana passed the world's first eugenics sterilization law in 1907. And from there, Stern says, 31 other US states followed suit.
"Under those laws, about 60,000 people were sterilized in procedures that we would qualify today as being compulsory, forced, involuntary, and under the justifications that the people who were being sterilized were unfit to reproduce," she says.
The laws, which led to officials ordering sterilizations of people they deemed "feeble-minded" or "mentally defective," later became models for Nazi Germany.
Stern directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab
, a project that's dedicated to reconstructing stories behind the sterilizations that occurred across the US.
"Women and people of color increasingly became the target, as eugenics amplified sexism and racism," Stern wrote in a recent article for The Conversation
detailing the lab's research.
Patterns varied from state to state, Stern says. In California, people of Mexican descent were disproportionately sterilized
. And in North Carolina, Black women were disproportionately targeted.
Most of the state laws were repealed by the 1970s
. But their history is something scholars are still working to unravel and states are still reckoning with.