U.S. Government Forcibly Drugs Migrant Children With Psychotropic Medication, Lawsuit Claims

Damir Mujezinovic

A new lawsuit obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal alleges that the U.S. government is violating migrant children's rights by placing them in detention-like centers, and then drugging the children with psychotropic medication.

Filed today in U.S. District Court in California on behalf of five migrant children, the lawsuit alleges the following.

"ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) places children in residential treatment facilities and detention facilities in which it knows they will be administered powerful psychotropic medications for weeks, months, or years, without procedural safeguards, including seeking their parents' consent - even those who are present in the United States and readily available to grant or withhold consent to ORR's medicating their children or other lawful authorization. "

Leecia Welch, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, told Reveal that, instead of protecting children, the government keeps them away from parents, inflicting long-term emotional damage.

"The government's tactics inflict trauma on the very children they are supposed to be protecting," Welch said.

According to MedicineNet, any medication capable of affecting emotions, behavior, and the human mind is considered psychotropic. This type of medication is typically used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and similar mental disorders.

In the lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in California on behalf of five migrant children, a 12-year-old Guatemalan boy, "thriving and happy" before being detained, said that he was repeatedly drugged and treated for depression. He is now diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and will not be released to his sister's custody until medical personnel declares him "psychologically sound."

Similarly, a partially deaf 16-year-old Honduran girl was forced to take multiple antidepressants and psychotropic drugs, after being separated from her sister, the lawsuit states.

After being placed in a shelter in California, waiting to be released to his father, a 16-year-old boy from Mexico was administered several psychotropic drugs. This caused him to lose weight, become aggressive, and nauseous. The boy's father never consented to this, or signed off on the medication, according to the lawsuit. The boy also claims to have been assaulted by the staff.

The ORR, lawsuit argues, is running afoul of the Flores Settlement Agreement, a 1997 court order that requires migrant children to be promptly released from government detention, and placed in more appropriate setting.