California to Distribute $7.5 Million in Compensation for Survivors of Forced Sterilization Programs

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California lawmakers supported the state paying $7.5 million to all surviving victims of its forced sterilization program called Eugenics, which was enacted in the state around the turn of the 20th century.

Unai Montes-Irueste, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who is responsible for writing the new legislation, said there was an estimated 20,000 residents who were deemed “unfit to reproduce” that were sterilized under the practice.

Sterilization Program Compensation

“Those most targeted for involuntary sterilization were people of color, people with disabilities and the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” a 2019 news release from Cariillo’s office said.

The state’s reparations to the victims are part of its $100 billion budget coming into the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which California State Governor Gavin Newsom signed this week. Much of California’s eugenics program was outlawed in 1979, but it was not until 2014 that laws ending the sterilization of prisoners were passed, Montes-Irueste said.

While it was not clear how many survivors remained from the sterilization era, authorities estimated hundreds of people would be eligible for the funding. They said that the list would most likely include some residents who were incarcerated.

Across the United States, 32 states had eugenics programs to sterilize their residents, but California was leading in terms of the scope of the program. There were even some members of the Nazi party who were intrigued by the program, who asked state eugenicists in the 1930s for their suggestions on how to operate their own sterilization program.

“Germany used California’s program as its chief example that this was a working, successful policy,” Christina Cogdell, a cultural historian at the University of California-Davis and author of the book “Eugenic Design,” said in 2012.

The United States’ intellectual elite, which includes doctors, geneticists and Supreme Court justices, supported the forced sterilization programs in the mid-20th century. Several other states struggled against legal challenges, resulting in a back-and-forth start and stop of sterilization programs. But Cogdell noted that California’s program stood strong for more than half a century.

“If you were deemed worthy of being sterilized by a doctor, there was no board where you could have a hearing to protest,” Cogdell said, CNN reported.

“The legacy of California’s eugenics laws is well-known and their repercussions continue to be felt. No amount of monetary compensation will ever remedy the wrongs committed but this bill is a step in the right direction in the state taking responsibility to remedy the violence inflicted on survivors,” Laura Jimenez, Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, said in a news release

Danielle Joyce Ong

Danielle is a local journalist with a passion for exploring stories related to crime and politics. When Danielle isn't busy writing or reading, she is usually exploring the great outdoors and all the hiking trails in the Bay.