[9/21/20] – Forced Sterilizations of ICE Detainees

When Dawn Wooten came forward to allege Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers have been (and currently are) forcing immigrant women into sterilization surgery without their consent or knowledge, many Americans were shocked and appalled. Not me. This is nothing new. The United States has a long history of subjecting women of color to atrocious feats of medical malpractice. From the development of medicine on the backs of slave women to eugenic measures used against Indigenous, immigrant, poor, and other women deemed unfit for American society, American history is filled with similar stories of unfair treatment of women in the interest of social cleansing. Unfortunately, these practices continue. In this week’s Lecture Spark, we draw attention to the hegemonic ideologies that facilitate the perpetuation of such practices that involve the social construction of women of color and the medicalization of deviance…and of course social processes that determine who and who is not considered deviant.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Forced Sterilizations of ICE Detainees

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how hegemonic ideologies work to perpetuate social inequality and normalize degradation of racialized and oppressed populations.

LO2: Understand how social institutions and structures enable powerful groups to enforce sanctions on certain groups over others based on their social construction.

LO3: Explain how the experience of enduring a trauma can influence one’s self-perception and willingness to interact with others.


Women in ICE Custody Say They Were Subjected to Unwanted Hysterectomies | NowThis

EXCLUSIVE: Multiple women detained by ICE are speaking out after a whistleblower claimed detainees were being forcibly sterilized through medically unnecessary hysterectomies at a private Georgia detention facility (warning: distressing themes)

Whistleblower alleges forced hysterectomies at ICE detention center in Georgia

A former nurse at a Georgia detention center is filing a whistleblower complaint with the federal government after she says doctors have refused to test inmates for COVID-19 because they didn’t want to quarantine them. She also says doctors routinely performed hysterectomies on inmates who didn’t need them.

Jayapal: ‘At Least 17 To 18 Women’ In ICE Detention Underwent Needless Medical Procedures | MSNBC

Rep. Pramila Jayapal talks with Rachel Maddow about what she has learned from speaking with the lawyers for “at least 17 to 18 women” who claim to have been subjected to unnecessary medical procedures while in the custody of ICE, and why she thinks the number of women affected could be far greater.

Discussion Questions

From a structural-functionalist perspective, what are the intended and unintended functions of forced sterilization of immigrant women in ICE detainment campus? How do these practices create stability or instability in the American society? How do these abuses of power create dysfunction in society, and how do they need to be remedied?

What are some dominant stereotypes that you are aware of concerning women of color living in the United States? Where do these ideas come from? Who benefits the most from their continued existence, and who suffers the greatest? How might this story be portrayed (and ultimately received) differently by the American public if the women involved were white inmates?

How is pregnancy defined differently by the medical community based on one’s social and cultural background? Why might the government incentivize doctors to intentionally disrupt an immigrant (and other marginalized) woman’s ability to reproduce? Why is it necessary to first instill a belief of inferiority of these in the minds of the American people before this practice can become normalized?

From a conflict perspective, why has this practice continued for over 100 years? What mechanisms (e.g., social institutions and structures) exist in American culture that operate to obscure this history?

From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, how might enduring the experience of a coerced sterilization procedure alter one’s perception of the medical community, childbearing, government intervention, and more? How does learning about the historical and current practice of eugenics on racialized and oppressed populations alter your perspective of American culture?


Which of the following social structures are complicit in facilitating the forced sterilization of women deemed unfit for American society?
a. Government
b. Education
c. Media
d. Medicine
e. All of the above…and more

A sociologist would likely be interested in investigating the research question…
a. How much money is being spent by the government to maintain detention facilities?
b. What is the average compensation for a CEO of a private prison?
c. What is the relationship among news coverage of forced sterilizations and attitudes towards immigrant women in the United States?
d. What is the quality of conditions detained immigrant women are living in?

The social process by which deviant behaviors become treatable illnesses is known as…
a. Stigmatization
b. Medicalization
c. Behavior Modification
d. Deviant Treatment Protocol

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/PeopleImages

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