Photo for Open Letter On Forced Sterilization

Photo: Women's March for Reproductive Rights Chicago Illinois 5-20-19_0743 (Photo: Charles Edward Miller, cropped.) CC BY-SA 2.0


Open Letter On Forced Sterilization In Immigrant Detention Centers

Photo: Women's March for Reproductive Rights Chicago Illinois 5-20-19_0743 (Photo: Charles Edward Miller, cropped.) CC BY-SA 2.0

UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration

As faculty affiliates of the UCLA Center of the Study of International Migration and as scholars of migration, we are writing to express our horror over recent reports that immigrant women in detention centers have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent. This violation of their reproductive rights is part of the growing devaluation of the lives of immigrants, through state policies that little by little undermine the fundamental rights to health and justice.

Cases of hysterectomies, tubal ligation, and ovarian removals undertaken without women's consent are terrifying. They also comprise part of a long unfortunate history, in which the United States has repeatedly violated the reproductive and sexual rights of indigenous, Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and poor white women. Forced sterilization, a long-standing instrument of state control, is now being perpetrated against detained immigrant women, one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions faced by all detained immigrants – men and women alike -- have significantly deteriorated, as authorities have been indifferent to the health of those detained. The air transport networks that ICE has used to move detained or deported people also mistreat them. Returning deported immigrants to their home countries also transmits COVID-19 back to those very same places, as 90 percent of the deportees originate in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, most of them coming from medically underserved communities

To date, detention facilities have reported 600 active cases of COVID-19 and at least 6 deaths attributable to the pandemic. The US government has shown no interest in protecting the health of immigrants in detention, instead denying them critical medical care. After several investigations, the international organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) denounced what they call torture and extreme medical negligence in detention centers and against asylum seekers. Rather than release detainees from immigration prisons where the epidemic reigns largely unchecked, the US government has instead sought to keep them in captivity, violating the universal right to health and medical treatment of Central American and Mexican women, men and children.

Women in detention, who have traveled thousands of miles to flee the multiple sources of violence experienced in their countries of origin have ended up being re-victimized precisely in the place where they thought they would find a safe haven. In detaining immigrant women in privately owned facilities where their sexual and reproductive rights are violated, ICE and Homeland Security enable the contravention of fundamental human rights protections, rights that apply regardless of a person’s migration status or whether or not a person is in detention.

The US government remains liable for the unacceptable and illegal treatment undergone by women who have fled to this country in search of safety. We call on our government to live up to the responsibilities to which it is bound by the human rights agreements that it has signed. We insist that ICE and Homeland Security immediately undertake measures to end the involuntary sterilization of immigrant women in detention centers, regardless of whether those centers are private or maintained by the US government.

Roger Waldinger, Distinguished Professor, Department of Sociology; Director, UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration

Marjorie Orellana, Professor, Department of Education; Associate Director, UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration

Leisy Abrego, Professor and Chair, Department of Chicano/a and Central American Studies, UCLA

Karida Brown, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, UCLA

Rogers Brubaker, UCLA Foundation Chair and Distinguished Professor of Sociology, UCLA

Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, Director of Research, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative

Ingrid Eagly, Professor, School of Law, UCLA

Lieba Faier, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, UCLA

Tobias Higbie, Professor, Department of History, UCLA

Randall Kuhn, Associate Professor, Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA

Minayo Nasiali, Associate Professor, Department of History, UCLA

Paul Ong, Research Professor and Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge,
Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA

Margaret Peters, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, UCLA

Carlos Santos, Associate Professor, Luskin School of Public Affairs

Jennifer Silvers, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, UCLA

Andres Villareal, Professor, Department of Sociology, UCLA

David K. Yoo, Professor of Asian American Studies and History, UCLA

Min Zhou, Walter and Shirley Wang Endowed Chair in U.S.-China Relations and Professor, Departments of Sociology and Asian American Studies, UCLA

This letter draws on and is inspired by an article authored by Professors Cecilia Menjivar and Leisy Abrego, “La brutalidad del sistema migratorio se ensaña contra las mujeres,”


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Published: Thursday, October 15, 2020

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