ICE says it won’t sedate deportees

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued an internal memo on Jan. 9 setting a new policy, effective immediately, on the sedation of detainees. The agency “may only involuntarily sedate an alien to facilitate removal where the Government has obtained a court order…” reads the memo from ICE detention and removal director John Torres. “There are no exceptions to this policy. Emergency or exigent circumstances are not grounds for departures from this policy.” To get a sedation order from court, officials must show deportees have a history of physical resistance to being removed or are a danger to themselves.

ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said in a written statement on Jan. 11 that the directive clarifies procedures implemented last year. “Medical sedation will only be considered as a last resort,” she said. (Los Angeles Times, AP, Jan. 12) In a policy change last June, ICE allowed forced sedation without a court order only in emergencies. That came after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California made public in May that ICE had drugged at least two foreign nationals against their will during failed deportation attempts.

The ACLU of Southern California and the law firm Munger, Tolles and Olson sued the government last June 19 to stop the practice of sedation and demand compensation for two plaintiffs who were drugged. Indonesian immigrant Raymond Soeoth was appealing his political asylum case when he was injected with the antipsychotic drug Haldol in December 2004 at the Terminal Island detention facility in San Pedro, California. Senegalese immigrant Amadou Lamine Diouf, who was also appealing his case, was injected with an unidentified psychotropic drug in February 2006 while on a commercial plane at Los Angeles International Airport. (LAT, Jan. 12; ACLU news releases, May 8, June 19, 2007; Jan. 7, 2008) Diouf said escorting ICE agents injected him after he asked to speak with the plane’s pilot to tell him that he had a judge’s order temporarily staying his deportation. (AP, Jan. 12)

Both Diouf and Soeoth were released in February 2007 as the result of a lawsuit filed in November 2006 by the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, challenging their prolonged detention and that of two other detainees at Terminal Island. Shortly after that lawsuit was filed, the district court ordered the government to provide the men with bond hearings. By February 2007, all four were released. The government appealed the district court’s decision in three of the four cases, including those of Soeoth and Diouf. Arguments were made on Jan. 7 to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit. (ACLU news release, Jan. 7)

ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers acknowledged in September 2007 during Senate testimony that 56 deportees were administered psychotropic drugs between Oct. 1, 2006, and April 30, 2007. Medications commonly used are lorazepam, haloperidol, olanzapine and benztropine. Of the 56 detainees who ICE says were drugged, 33 had no history of psychological problems; they were sedated because of alleged “combative behavior, with the imminent risk of danger to others and/or self,” according to Myers. “I am aware of, and deeply concerned about reports that past practices may not have conformed to ICE detention standards,” Myers said. (LAT, Jan. 12) Before the policy change last June, ICE rules still only allowed detainees to be sedated in emergencies if a medical professional determined that “they present a danger to themselves or to others.” (ACLU news release, May 8, 2007)

“We’re very pleased that the government has finally agreed to stop forcibly drugging people without court orders,” ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said on Jan. 11. The ACLU plans to continue its lawsuit seeking compensation for Soeoth and Diouf. In addition, Arulanantham said he wants the government to release more information about how long the sedation policy existed and how many people were involuntarily medicated. (LAT, Jan. 12)

From Immigration News Briefs, Jan. 12

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