SACRAMENTO, California. California stands ready to approve reparations of up to $ 25,000 for victims among the thousands of people – some as young as 13 years old – who were sterilized decades ago because state officials deemed them unfit to have children.
The payments, which are part of the state’s new $ 262.6 billion operating budget awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature, will make California at least the third state, after Virginia and North Carolina, to fall victim to so-called eugenics – Paid movement that peaked in the 1930s. Proponents believed sterilizing people with mental illness, physical disabilities, and other so-called undesirable traits would improve humanity.
The California proposal is unique in that it would not only apply to victims of the 1979 repealed eugenics law. The state will also pay female inmates who have been forced to undergo sterilization, a shame exposed first from the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013.
A Review found that the state sterilized 144 women between 2005 and 2013 with no evidence that officials advised them or offered alternative treatments. While all women signed consent forms, in 39 cases the state officials did not do everything required by law to get their permission.
“We have to address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the California Latinas for Reproductive Justice advocacy group. “This is not something that has only happened in the past.”
The California forced sterilization program began in 1909 under similar laws in Indiana and Washington. California’s program was by far the largest. The state sterilized more than 20,000 people, which is roughly a third of all people sterilized under these laws in the United States.
California law was so prominent that it inspired similar practices even in Nazi Germany, according to Paul Lombardo, a law professor at Georgia State University and an expert on the eugenics movement.
“The promise of eugenics is at the earliest: ‘We could abolish all state institutions – prisons, hospitals, insane asylums, orphanages,'” said Lombardo. “People who were in it wouldn’t be born after a while if you sterilized all of their parents.”
Among the victims in California is Mary Franco, who was sterilized in 1934 when she was just 13 years old. She described paperwork as “moronic” because of “sexual deviation”, according to her niece Stacy Cordova, who researched her case.
Cordova said Franco was actually molested by a neighbor. She said her family put Franco in an institution to protect the family’s reputation.
Cordova said her late aunt loved children and wanted a family. They briefly married when she was around 17, but Cordova said the marriage was annulled when the man found out Franco couldn’t have children. She lived a lonely life in a Mexican culture that adored large families, Cordova said.
“I don’t know if it’s justice. Money doesn’t pay for what happened to them. But it’s great to know that this is recognized, ”said Cordova, who works to ensure that the state pays survivors. “For me it’s not about the money. This is about memory. “
Relatives like Cordova are not entitled to the payments. Are only direct victims.
Sterilizations in California prisons appear to be in progress until 1999, when the state, for reasons unknown, changed its policy to include a sterilization procedure known as “tubal ligation” as part of inmate medical care. Over the next decade, women reported being forced to undergo this procedure, with some not fully understanding the effects.
A state law passed in 2014 prohibits sterilization for the purpose of birth control in state prisons and local prisons. The law allows sterilizations that are “medically necessary,” such as cancer removal, and requires facilities to report each year how many people have been sterilized for what reason.
Questionable sterilizations also occurred in local government facilities. In 2018 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors he apologized for the more than 200 women who were sterilized at Los Angeles-USC Medical Center between 1968 and 1974.
These people are not eligible for reparations under the California program. But proponents say they hope to include them in the future.
“It’s just the beginning,” said Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat campaigner for redress. “I can’t imagine the trauma, depression, stress of incarceration, rehabilitation, and trying to start a new life in society, to raise a family, only to find that that choice has been taken from you. ”
Of the people California sterilized under its old eugenics law, only a few hundred are still alive, according to a study by the California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. Including the most recently sterilized inmates, the group estimates that more than 600 people are entitled to redress.
But finding them will be difficult. The group estimates that only about 25% of those eligible ultimately claim and get paid for reparations.
California’s Victim Compensation Board will run the $ 2 million program to find victims through advertising and crawl government records. The state also allocated $ 1 million for plaques to honor the victims and left $ 4.5 million for reparations.
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