Professor Widian Nicola, president-elect of the National Association of Social Workers, NJ, wrote a featured op-ed published in NJ.com entitled "Sterilizing Immigrant Detainees Must Stop Now."
Reports are emerging that women in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are being sterilized en masse. These women came to the United States as refugees seeking asylum from horror, brutality, and oppression. Asking shelter from poverty and violence and a future for themselves and their children, they are instead incarcerated in for-profit detention centers and surgically stripped of their ability to have children — a brutality and oppression that is both heartbreaking and unspeakable but must be spoken as it must now stop.
Professor Nicola herself is a former undocumented immigrant whose family came to the United States seeking safety and opportunity. As Catholic Palestinians from the Middle East they left a discriminatory environment, but as Nicola notes in this op-ed (and in detail through her Lived Experience Project podcast) she came to know that undocumented status in the United States is itself trauma inducing.
The trauma of undocumented existence in the U.S. is one thing, but she also notes that "the sterilization of women in custody harkens back to some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind."
As a former undocumented immigrant of nearly 30 years, I know and understand the trauma associated with this status but I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors and trauma these women are facing as they look to a childless future through the bars of a detention center.
Considering the history, Nicola says "that this violence is now being perpetrated against brown-skinned bodies in the United States is not surprising but it is shocking."
Nicola further notes
As a researcher, educator and social work clinician, I am keenly aware of how trauma lives in the body – on a cellular level. Our DNA is changed.
This means that in addition to subtracting these women from the gene pool, we are actually participating in changing the genetic structures of these women's bodies — through trauma — and creating a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional anguish and distress. This form of subjugation, or the subjugation of any woman, more broadly, who has the temerity to seek a better life in the United States, has become an extension of the heartless strategy of caging refugee children as a deterrent to immigration, which is coincidentally a perpetuation of the brutality and violence against women all too familiar in human history.
We are a nation that has been profoundly affected by what has been the longest war in U.S. history and political dissension that gives new meaning to the word "divisive." But we are also a country that cannot afford to maintain the legacies of our racist history if we are to look at ourselves, honestly, in the mirror. Dehumanization is not our calling. Torture is not our calling. And mass sterilization of women seeking a better life should be no one's calling.
Humanity, however, is calling – and it implores us to put an end to these crimes. What we do today affects how we will live in the future. Who wants to live in a world, or a country, where mass sterilization is the solution to anything? Is this what we leave for our children? Our response to these horrific allegations must be swift and action-based. An investigation and prosecution for anyone found to be responsible are the foremost demands. Anything short of this is an egregious denial of the realities of our open wounds – and a failure to staunch this particular wound, before it spreads, can have grave consequences.
Read the full feature op-ed, "Sterilizing Immigrant Detainees Must Stop Now."