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California tries to find 600 victims of forced sterilization in reparations

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About 600 people alive today can’t have children because the California government sterilized them against their will or without their knowledge, and now the state is trying to track them down in order to pay them at least $15,000 each in repairs.

But after a year of research, the state has only approved 51 people for payments out of 310 applications. There is still a year to go before the end of the $4.5 million program and the challenges remain daunting. State officials have turned down 103 people, closed three incomplete applications and are processing 153 others — but they say it’s difficult to verify applications because many records have been lost or destroyed.

Two groups of people are eligible for the money: those who were sterilized by the government during the so-called eugenics movement that peaked in the 1930s and a smaller group who were victimized in state prisons there. about a decade old.

“We try to find all the information we can and sometimes we just have to hope that maybe someone can find more detailed information on their own,” said Lynda Gledhill, executive director of the California Victims’ Compensation Board. , which oversees the program. “Sometimes we are not able to verify what happened.”

California in 2021 was the third state to approve a reparations program for forced sterilizations, joining North Carolina and Virginia. But California was the first state to also include more recent victims of its state prison system.

The eugenics movement sought to prevent certain people with mental illness or physical disabilities from being able to have children. California had the largest forced sterilization program in the country, sterilizing around 20,000 people beginning in 1909. It was so well known that it later inspired practices in Nazi Germany. The state did not repeal its eugenics law until 1979.

Of the 45 people whose repairs have been approved so far, only three were sterilized during the eugenics era. With surviving victims from that era in the 80s, 90s and beyond, state officials sent posters and fact sheets to 1,000 qualified nursing homes and 500 libraries across the state in the hope of achieving more.

The state also signed a $280,000 contract in October with Fresno-based JP Marketing to launch a social media campaign that will run through the end of 2023. The biggest push will begin this month. , when the state will pay for TV and radio ads. in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento which will continue until next October.

The hope is that friends or relatives of victims will see the advertisements and help their loved one apply for the program. Only victims are eligible for payments. But if a victim dies after being approved but before receiving full payment, they can designate a beneficiary – such as a family member – to receive the money.

“We take this mission very seriously to find these people,” Gledhill said. “Nothing we can do can make up for what happened to them.

The second group eligible for reparations includes people who were sterilized in California prisons. A state audit found that 144 women were sterilized between 2005 and 2013 with little or no evidence that they were counseled or offered alternative treatments. State lawmakers responded by passing a law in 2014 banning sterilizations in prison for birth control purposes while allowing other medically necessary procedures.

It was much easier to find records verifying these victims, as their proceedings were recently held. State officials sent letters to inmates who would have been sterilized and urged them to apply while posting flyers in state prisons announcing the program.

Wendy Carrillo, a Democratic congresswoman from California who lobbied to get the program approved, said she would ask lawmakers to extend the application deadline beyond 2023. She wants to give victims more time to apply and she wants to expand the program to include victims who have been sterilized at county-funded hospitals. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors apologized in 2018 after more than 200 women were sterilized at the Los Angeles-USC Medical Center between 1968 and 1974.

“I’m not thrilled with the numbers we’re seeing so far, but I believe that as we come out of Covid and start working fully at our full capacity – which means we’re able to do community meetings and in-person meetings and more direct outreach other than behind a computer and via Zoom – things are going to change,” she said.

Finding inmates who have been sterilized is always a challenge, Gledhill said. “It’s a population that perhaps doesn’t trust the government very much, given what has happened to them.”

One such person is Moonlight Pulido, who was serving a life sentence for attempted premeditated murder. While incarcerated in 2005, Pulido said a doctor told him he needed to remove two “growths” that could be cancer. She signed a form and had surgery. Later, something was wrong. She was constantly sweating and not feeling like herself. She asked a nurse, who told her she had had a full hysterectomy, a procedure that removes the uterus and cervix, and sometimes other parts of the reproductive system.

Pulido was shocked. She was 41 at the time, already had children and was serving a life sentence. But she said the doctor took away her right to start another family – something that affected her deeply.

“I am Native American and we as women are grounded in Mother Earth. We are the only givers of life, we are the only ones who can give life and he stole that blessing from me,” she said. “I felt less than a woman.”

Pulido was paroled in January 2022. Working with advocacy group Coalition for Women Prisoners, she sought reparations and was approved for a $15,000 payment.

“I sat there and watched him and cried. I cried because I never had so much money in my life,” she said.

Pulido could get more money. The state has $4.5 million for reparations and whatever remains after the program ends will be divided equally among approved victims.

Pulido said she spent some of the money fixing a car someone gave her when she got out of prison. She tries to save the rest. Known as DeAnna Henderson for most of her life, Pulido said she changed her name shortly before being released from prison – drawing inspiration from gazing at the moon through her cell window.

“DeAnna was a very injured little girl who was carrying a lot of injured baggage, and I was tired of carrying all that,” she said. “I’ve lived in darkness for so long, I want to be part of the light that will be part of my name.”

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