Houston, TX – A federal lawsuit filing on April 23 in an ongoing class-action lawsuit revealed that immigrant children separated from their parents—during both the Obama and Trump administrations—were allegedly held down and forcibly injected with powerful psychiatric drugs while being held at the Shiloh Treatment Center, a government contractor south of Houston that houses undocumented immigrant minors.
The children, in sworn affidavits, described how they were told the drugs were vitamins, and that they would not be allowed to see their parents or leave the facility unless they complied and took the medications.
One child recalled being forced to take pills, which they were told were vitamins, in the morning, at noon and night, stating: “the staff told me that some of the pills are vitamins because they think I need to gain weight. The vitamins changed about two times, and each time I feel different.”
An investigation by Reveal, for the Center for Investigative Reporting, found that “one child was prescribed 10 different shots and pills including the antipsychotic drugs Latuda, Geodon and Olanzapine, the Parkinson’s medication Benztropin, the seizure medications Clonazepam and Divalproex, the nerve pain medication and antidepressant Duloxetine, and the cognition enhancer Guanfacine.”
One child described being thrown against a door and choked by a supervisor until she passed out for trying to open a window.
“The supervisor told me I was going to get a medication injection to calm me down,” the girl said. “Two staff grabbed me, and the doctor gave me the injection despite my objection and left me there on the bed.”
The Shiloh facility is one of 71 companies contracted by the federal government to house and supervise immigrant children that have been deemed unaccompanied minors. The investigation by Reveal found that in the last four years, nearly $1.7 billion was paid out to contractors with serious allegations levied against them of mistreating children.
Despite the extremely serious allegation of child abuse being reported at these facilities, the federal government continued to utilize these same companies to house undocumented immigrant children.
The records were filed in connection with an ongoing class-action status lawsuit, alleging poor treatment of undocumented immigrant children in U.S. custody going back to 2013 under the Obama administration.
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It is important to note that the Trump administration's “Zero-Tolerance” policy was announced on April 6, 2018, thus the allegations in the lawsuit took place prior the implementation of treating illegal border crossings as a criminal infraction versus a civil infraction—meaning these are children that were separated from their parents prior to the new policy was announced.
A report from the Washington Post explains:
What changed was the administration’s handling of these cases. Undocumented immigrant families seeking asylum previously were released and went into the civil court system, but now the parents are being detained and sent to criminal courts while their kids are resettled in the United States as though they were unaccompanied minors...
After a holding period, DHS transfers children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. They spend an average 51 days at an ORR shelter before they’re placed with a sponsor in the United States, according to HHS. The government is required to place these children with family members whenever possible, even if those family members might be undocumented immigrants.
“Approximately 85 percent of sponsors are parents” who were already in the country “or close family members,” according to HHS. Some children have no relatives available, and in those cases the government may keep them in shelters for longer periods of time while suitable sponsors are identified and vetted.
An attorney representing the children said that during the time period when children are forcibly separated from their parents they often become depressed, angry, anxious and, sometimes, unruly and that, in turn, encourages prescription of inappropriate medication by these facilities.
Forensic psychiatrist Mark. J. Mills, who was an expert witness for a 2008 lawsuit that forced the federal government to stop forcibly administering antipsychotic drugs to deportees, assessed materials found in the children’s medical records and statements in the federal court filing.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist here; it looks like they’re trying to control agitation and aggressive behavior with antipsychotic drugs,” Mills said.
“You don’t need to administer these kinds of drugs unless someone is plucking out their eyeball or some such. The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for. That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do,” he added.
The Shiloh facility has been synonymous with mistreating children since December 2014, when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, called for Shiloh to be shut down, citing reports from the Houston Chronicle of “physical violence, unreasonable and excessive use of physical restraints, administering emergency medications without notice to governmental authorities, and several deaths of minor children while in custody."
Despite the calls to shut down the immigrant detention facility, according to federal documents obtained by Reveal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has continued to send undocumented immigrant children—and more than $19 million in government funding—to Shiloh since it was contracted to house child immigrants in 2013, under the Obama administration.