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Drugging of deportees against their will

Thank you to Stephen Yale-Loehr for this important, yet disturbing article highlighting the continued abuse of detainees and deportees in the US.

U.S. Agents Forcibly Drug Immigrants to Deport

Two Los Angeles Detainees Recount Harrowing Stories of Involuntary Sedation 

ROBERT LEVINS / Daily Journal        

By Sandra Hernandez
Los Angeles Daily Journal Staff Writer

May 8, 2007

      LOS ANGELES – Federal immigration agents at a Los Angeles detention center forcibly drugged immigrants while attempting to deport them.
      A Senegalese man was handcuffed, put aboard an Air France flight and injected by immigration officials, despite a court order barring his removal.
      Agents restrained a second man, pulled his pants down, forcibly injected him and eventually drove him to Los Angeles International Airport during a botched bid to deport him.
      The Daily Journal obtained medical records confirming that both men were involuntarily drugged, their deportation abandoned after airline officials at Los Angeles International Airport refused to transport them.
      Now, civil rights and immigrant rights’ lawyers question why federal agents and public-health workers drugged two men with no history of mental illness or violence.
      “The government’s conduct is truly horrifying and blatantly illegal because they are not allowed to forcibly sedate people who are not mentally ill,” ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said. “In fact, if this had happened in Baghdad, it would be torture.”
      Arulanantham met the two men when he challenged their prolonged detention. He is investigating their forced sedation.
      The two immigrants were held at the San Pedro Processing Center when they were drugged. The aging waterfront facility is among a handful directly operated by the Department of Homeland Security.
      A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency does not “discuss individual cases of removal, and we certainly would not discuss their medical histories.”
      Immigrant rights advocates, such as Kathleen Sullivan, of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, called the forced drugging “amazing.”
      “This says a huge amount about oversight of the entire detention process. There have been any number of reports in the past few years on various aspects on detention that are troubling,” said Kennedy, whose group works on national detention issues around the nation.
      Medical experts said the druggings raise concerns of an ethical breach.
      “In my opinion that is completely inappropriate,” said Erik Roske, a forensic psychiatrist and member of the American Psychiatric Association’s committee on the mentally ill in prisons.
      “Every correctional standard guideline says these drugs are to be used for medical reasons, not for restraints,” Roske said.
      He and others questioned why psychotropic drugs such as Haldol, used to treat psychosis, were used as sedatives.
      “They could have potentially very damaging side effects,” he said. “These aren’t drugs that most general practitioners prescribe. An emergency-room doctor may use the combination if someone comes in out of control, or for someone in intensive care.”
      The forced sedation was done by public-health doctors and nurses assigned to U.S. Immigration and Customs, according to the agency.
      These health care workers belong to a special aviation program that provides medical escorts during deportations.
      But little is known about how often drugs are used during deportations and even less about how often immigrants are drugged against their will.
      Immigration officials said in a written statement that medication is used only for the “treatment of diagnosed illnesses, e.g., heart diseases, depression or other conditions.”

      The agency said detainees are never drugged to ease their removal.
      “Under no circumstances are detainees medicated solely to facilitate transport, unless a medical professional determines that they present a danger to themselves or to others,” agency officials said.
      Moreover, federal officials said the agency’s policy calls for sedating only mentally ill patients, with some exceptions.
      “Sedation is provided as part of the treatment for an existing psychiatric disorder or if the detainee is severely agitated during the flight,” the agency said in a statement.
      Immigration agents do not seek a court order to drug immigrants.
      The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that a mentally ill patient or prisoner could be medicated forcibly but only after an independent physician reviews the case and only in those situations in which the patient posed a danger to himself or herself or others.
      Neither man had any history of mental illness, according to their medical records.
      In 2001, a federal judge turned down a request by immigration officials to sedate a Sierra Leone man held in Texas so he could be deported. Immigration officials claimed that the man was too violent to travel aboard a commercial flight and that he should be medicated against his will. The deportation case against the man was eventually dropped, his attorney said.
      Federal officials have faced similar questions in Florida and Colorado.
      In 1991, immigration agents handcuffed, shackled and injected a Nigerian man with Thorazine, a drug used to treat psychosis. His mouth was taped shut, according to published accounts in the Washington Post.
      Cheryl Little, a Miami lawyer with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, represented the Nigerian. She said that, over the past 16 years, immigrants continue to report cases of forced medication.
      “We recently had a call from a woman from the Caribbean who said she was heavily drugged before being deported,” Little said.
      In Colorado, attorney Sandra Saltrese said two clients were sedated against their will and deported, including one man who spent three days sedated during his removal to Guinea. Neither man filed a complaint because they were outside the U.S.
      Immigration officials said medical escorts comply with guidelines “for management of agitated detainees during transport.”
      Federal rules, however, bar guards and other detention officials from using medication “to subdue an uncooperative detainee for staff convenience,” detention standards say.
      Civil rights lawyers have long complained the standards lack teeth because they are not legally binding and federal officials can’t be sued for failure to comply.
      Legal experts also question why immigration agents overlooked a court order barring the deportation of one of the Los Angeles detainees.
      “If someone has a stay, that means immigration officials have no authority to deport that individual,” said David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
      “If someone clearly states they have a stay and immigration officials ignore it, they are clearly violating the order of the court and violating the person’s rights,” Cole said.
      The two immigrants forcibly sedated were released this year, but the near-deportations haunt them.
      Raymond Soeoth is a shy man. He speaks quietly when he describes the violence and threats that pushed him and his wife to leave Indonesia and seek asylum in Los Angeles in 1999.
      And he is quieter still when recounting how he was given anti-psychotic medication against his will on Dec. 7, 2004.
      Soeoth, a Christian minister, was detained in 2004 after an immigration judge denied him asylum.
      Soeoth said he learned about his deportation from guards at the San Pedro center, who told him he would be sent home that day. Soeoth was put in a holding cell and told to wait.
      He said he repeatedly asked guards for permission to call his wife and lawyer, but guards ignored him.
      By late afternoon, a nurse appeared and told Soeoth he would escort him back to the capital city of Jakarta. Soeoth said the nurse asked how he felt and offered him drugs.

      “I told him I was OK,” Soeoth said, adding he never spoke of wanting to commit suicide.
      Soeoth recalls the nurse and four other agents returned about an hour later and surrounded him.
      “They grabbed my arms, pulled them behind my back and pushed me down on to a bench,” Soeoth said. “I wasn’t resisting. I’m not an animal. They opened my pants. I was crying at that point. They gave me a shot. I felt sleepy, and I think I fell asleep pretty soon after that.”
      Medical records confirm Soeoth was injected in the buttocks.
      A nurse wrote “psych meds requested for upcoming medical escort for [patient] threats to ‘kill self if deported.'”
      Soeoth was given Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication, according to the nurse’s notes. He was also given Cogentin, a drug used to blunt Haldol’s powerful side effects. In addition, large doses of three other drugs, including medication used to treat overdose cases, were requested.
      Immigration officials said Haldol and Cogentin are drugs commonly used to sedate immigrants during deportations.
      Soeoth was examined several times during his three years of detention, and no evidence of mental illness or psychosis was ever noted, according to records obtained by the Daily Journal.
      During an exam three months before the failed deportation attempt, nurses at the San Pedro facility described Soeoth as “frank” and “friendly” in medical reports, adding he appeared composed and his mind was “intact,” according to signed reports.
      And less than a month after the failed deportation bid, Soeoth was again examined, and the nurse described his health as good and marked no history of mental illness.
      Like the Indonesian minister, Amadou Diouf has found the fight to stay in the U.S. bruising.
      Diouf, a muscular man who holds a degree in information science, didn’t have an attorney while he was in the San Pedro facility.
      He said immigration agents often moved him from the waterside facility to the Santa Ana jail. While he was at the Orange County jail, he learned he was going to be deported.
      He was moved from the jail to San Pedro, where he told immigration agents he had a stay, but officials repeatedly ignored him the day he was drugged.
      “I showed it to a guard named Porter, but he told me it was old,” Diouf said. “I asked him to call the court, but he said, ‘No, you are going home.'”
      Diouf also sent a copy of the court order to his deportation officer the morning he was nearly removed, but he didn’t get a reply.
      The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Diouf a stay in July 2005, after he asked a federal court to review his case because of ineffective assistance from counsel. A stay remains in effect.
      Diouf came to the U.S. in 1995 on a student visa. He never went home. Police arrested him for possession of marijuana, and immigration officials moved to deport him.
      Diouf married his U.S.-citizen girlfriend and hired a lawyer to help him legalize his immigration status. The attorney did not file all the paperwork, and in 2005 immigration agents detained him.
      A federal court appointed Diouf a pro bono lawyer.
      Both Diouf and Soeoth said they stepped forward because they fear it could happen to others.
      For Arulanantham, the cases are troubling because such extraordinary measures were applied to such ordinary cases.
      “There is nothing remarkable about these two individuals,” Arulanantham said. “And that makes me think it isn’t an isolated incident. Neither one of these men was dangerous; neither of them was mentally ill. These were pretty routine deportation cases, yet these immigrants were illegally sedated.”

      U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Response

      The Daily Journal recently asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials about medical escorts during deportations.
      Federal officials outlined the process and answered questions about medication.
      Division of Immigration Health Services Special Operation’s Aviation Medicine Program

      To provide information about the Division of Immigration Health Services Special Operation’s Aviation Medicine Program.
      Through an Interagency Agreement, DIHS provides or arranges health care services for detainees in the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An integral part of this responsibility is to provide medical escorts for detainees with medical or psychological problems, who are deported by ground or airplane transportation to other countries or who are transferred within the United States to different facilities by plane or ground transportation.
      The Aviation Medicine Program provides medical professionals to perform medical escorts for detainees with medical or psychological problems, who are deported by ground or commercial/ chartered aircraft to other countries or transferred domestically.
      ICE leases chartered aircraft to remove large numbers of detainees back to their countries. The majority of removals are performed on commercial carriers. The majority of removals where there is AMP participation are performed on commercial carriers.
      The AMP has six full-time Flight Medical Providers and uses the DIHS medical provider pool to perform international and domestic medical escorts. Resources for medical escorts include registered nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and physicians. Each medical escort request is reviewed by the AMP, and as appropriate, the Mental Health /Medical Consultant will review and recommend a care plan.
      1. What is DHS/ICE’s policy on medical escorts during removals?
      Prescription medication is provided only by a medical professional for the treatment of diagnosed illnesses, for example, heart disease, depression or other conditions. Under no circumstances are detainees medicated solely to facilitate transport, unless a medical professional determines that they present a danger to themselves or to others.
      2. What is the policy on sedating immigrants during the deportation?
      Sedation is provided as part of the treatment for an existing psychiatric disorder or if the detainee is severely agitated during the flight, as stated above.
      3. Does DHS/ICE seek a court order to conduct a medical escort?
      DIHS has not recommended that DHS/ICE pursue a court order to conduct a medical escort.
      4. If not, who approves sedation?
      All medication administered to detainees during an escort is done so according to written orders from a physician. The health care provider serving as the escort is trained to follow DIHS clinical practice guidelines and protocols for management of agitated detainees during transport.
      5. What type of staff is involved in the medical escorts?
      DIHS uses registered nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and physicians to perform medical escorts. Most escorting personnel attend Armed Forces-conducted training in San Antonio, Texas, which prepares them for the task.
      6. If the immigrant is sedated, who administers the medications?
      All medications given during a medical escort are administered by a medical provider listed in question 5.
      7. Are medical psychiatric evaluations performed as part of the medical escort?
      When indicated, a psychiatric evaluation is performed.
      8. What medications are used?
      Commonly prescribed medications include lorazepam, haloperidol, olanzapine and benztropine.
      9. What is the list of nurses or other medical personnel in California who are allowed to participate in medical escorts?
      The Aviation Medicine Program uses the division’s national resources and is not limited to California.
      10. Can detainees refuse medication or sedation during removal?
      Yes. However, at times a severely agitated detainee may not respond to less-restrictive methods to de-escalate a situation, including physical restraints, and presents an imminent risk of danger to self or others. The medical provider performing the escort may use sedative medications in this circumstance.

      11. Is sedation or medication used to deal with behavioral issues during the removals?

      Only if part of the treatment for an existing psychiatric disorder or if the detainee is severely agitated during the flight, as stated in the above answer.

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