Constitutional Law

ACLU: Feds' Drugging of Immigrants Torture?

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In a motion filed yesterday in an asylum case, the American Civil Liberties Union calls for a halt to an admitted federal policy of forcibly injecting some immigrants with psychotropic medication and putting them aboard commercial airlines for deportation.

It says the practice violates federal law and the Bill of Rights and may also be tantamount to torture, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In Senate testimony last month, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said 50 immigrant detainees had been forcibly given psychotropic drugs in seven months, and 33 had no prior psychiatric diagnosis, the newspaper reports.

“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,” says Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU lawyer.

The federal case concerns two detainees (in addition to the 50 cited by ICE), allegedly forcibly injected with psychotropic medication, the Times says.

Mark Mills, a Columbia University psychiatry professor retained by the ACLU, says the injections were medically inappropriate, and included an excessive Cogentin dose given at least one of the two. (ICE records don’t show what medication the other man received.)

“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,” Mills wrote in a sworn statement.

Lauri Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, declined to comment about the case, but said “medical sedation is an act of last resort and is rarely used.” When used, it is both legal and overseen by “medical professionals,” she said.

A government brief says ICE policy permits forcible medication of detainees only if “a medical professional from the U.S. Public Health Service … determine[s] that they present a danger to themselves or to others,” the Times reports. However, government lawyers now say the policy has been changed to require a court order.

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