The ACLU filed a motion Tuesday in federal court to stop immigration authorities from forcibly drugging deportees in order to send them back to their home countries on commercial airlines.
The motion comes after an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement testified before the Senate last month that 50 immigrants had been given psychotropic drugs against their will over a seven-month period. Thirty-three of them had no previous psychiatric diagnosis.
One deportee, a Christian pastor in Riverside, was pinned down in a holding cell in Los Angeles the day before he was scheduled to be flown to his native Indonesia, the ACLU contended in court papers. Another, a Senegalese man, was wrestled down in the aisle of a plane parked at LAX and injected with medication. Those two deportees were in addition to the 50 cited during the Senate hearing.
"The new information shows the government's forcible drugging policy is more widespread than previously suggested," said ACLU attorney Ahilan T. Arulanantham.
"It's both medically inappropriate and shocking that the government believes it can treat immigrants like animals and shoot them up with powerful anti-psychotic drugs that can be fatal -- without a doctor's examination or court oversight."
The motion comes as part of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed in June on behalf of the Riverside pastor and the Senegalese man, who were detained at Terminal Island and then forcibly drugged during the deportation process. The civil rights group contends that practice violates both the Bill of Rights and federal law regarding the medical treatment of detainees, and may constitute torture.
Both men are appealing their asylum claims. They ultimately were not deported and have been released, pending their appeals.
ICE spokeswoman Lauri Haley would not comment about the pending litigation, but said the forced medications were exceedingly rare. When they are necessary, they are both legal and overseen by "medical professionals," she said.
"Medical sedation is an act of last resort and is rarely used," she said.
According to a brief filed by the government, ICE policy allows for forcibly medicating detainees only if "a medical professional from the U.S. Public Health Service. . . determined that they present a danger to themselves or to others."
The government has not disclosed the circumstances of the forced medications. Only one of the two ACLU plaintiffs even knows what drugs he was given, according to documents recently filed in the case.
The day before he was to be sent back to his native Indonesia, Raymond Soeoth said, two officers pinned him down on a bench in a holding cell and injected him in the buttocks. His medical records show that they gave him two powerful anti-psychotic medications -- Haldol (haloperidol) and Cogentin -- even though he had no history of psychosis.
No doctor had examined Soeoth, an ethnic Chinese and Christian who fled his predominantly Muslim country in 1999 to escape religious persecution, he said. An unsigned note in his medical record, which was attached to the motion, said "psyche meds requested. . . for patient's threats to kill self if deported." Another note said Soeoth was given the medication for "telling officers he would not board airplane."
Dr. Mark Mills, a Columbia University professor of psychiatry retained by the ACLU to review the case, called the involuntary medication "profoundly disturbing."
If Soeoth was suicidal, the appropriate medication would not be Haldol, which can cause serious side effects, but "an anti-depressant or mood-stabilizing drug," Mills wrote in a sworn declaration. Haldol "is never clinically appropriate for patients who are not suffering from some form of psychosis," Mills wrote.
Mills also said that the dose of Cogentin was twice the standard dose of 2 milligrams. "In more than 30 years of psychiatric practice, I have never seen or heard of a case where 4 milligrams was delivered at once, particularly as an initial matter."
The case of the second plaintiff, Amadou Laime Diouf, was equally troubling to Mills, particularly because authorities made no note of the medication they used and because they injected him through clothing, which "greatly increases the likelihood of site infection."
In a sworn statement, Diouf said the incident occurred while on the tarmac at LAX waiting to be flown to his native Senegal. When Diouf asked a flight attendant to talk to the captain because he felt he was being deported in violation of an appeals court order, his immigration escorts grew angry, wrestling him to the floor and injecting him through his pants, he said.
Hearing the commotion, the captain ordered Diouf and the escorts off the plane. But the drug made Diouf's legs numb. He fell going down the stairs, and was disoriented and sleepy for days, he said.