A class-action lawsuit alleges that psychotropic drugs were overprescribed to migrant children who arrived as unaccompanied minors and are now in the care of the US government. The children say they were forcibly drugged and abused in centers around the country.
- Migrant children who are considered unaccompanied minors and are in the care of the US government say they've been drugged and abused.
- Court documents in a class-action lawsuit filed in April reveal shocking allegations that the children were overprescribed psychotropic drugs, leading to weight gain, an inability to walk, and forced sleep.
- Other children say they were abused verbally, physically, and mentally.
Migrant children in US government custody are being involuntarily drugged to the point they cannot walk, stay awake, or maintain their physical or mental health, court filings allege.
A class-action lawsuit concerning the government's treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in its care was filed in April, shortly after the Trump administration implemented its "zero tolerance" immigration policy for illegal arrivals. But many of the allegations of abuse in the filings go back years.
Government contractors, including Texas' Shiloh Treatment Center and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, have been accused of abusing children and overprescribing psychotropic drugs; the court documents say one child was taking 18 drugs and three meal-replacement shakes a day.
The filings allege that these drugs, which can have serious and permanent side effects, were prescribed often and without parental consent and that many of them weren't approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use by children.
The experiences and allegations described by the children and some of their parents in the filings include:
- Children were not informed about what conditions they apparently had. "I don't remember if I got anything in writing about their decision but I don't think I had an opportunity to challenge it ... I took nine pills in the morning and seven in the evening. I don't know what medications I was taking; no one ever told me that. I don't know what my diagnosis or illness is."
- Physical force was used to administer drugs. "I also saw staff throw another youth to the ground, pry his mouth open and force him to take the medicine ... They told me that if I did not take the medicine I could not leave, that the only way I could get out of Shiloh was if I took the pills."
- Staff members initiated tranquilizations. "When [a staff member at Shiloh] would call the medical staff, they would come and give me a shot to tranquilize me. It happened many times. They would give me the shot and then I would start to feel sleepy and heavy, and like I didn't have any strength. I would sleep for three or four hours and then wake up and slowly start to feel my strength return. When the staff did that, they left me in the classroom near the wall to sleep."
- Children were verbally abused by staff to provoke a response. "Some of the staff at Shiloh would provoke the children there and make us angry intentionally. They made us act violently so then we had to be given shots. The staff would call us names like 'sons of a whore.'"
- Some were unable to walk normally. "They are requiring [my daughter] to take very powerful medications for anxiety. I have noted that [she] is becoming more nervous, fearful, and she trembles. [She] tells me that she has fallen several times ... because the medications were too powerful and she couldn't walk."
- Some children experienced unhealthy weight gain, including one who said they put on nearly 100 pounds. "After taking the medication, I was more tired, I felt sad and my eyes got teary ... I began to gain a lot of weight ... In approximately 60 days, I gained 45 pounds."
- Some were handcuffed for days on end. "At Shenandoah, my room had a mattress, a sink, and a toilet ... I was forced to wear handcuffs on my wrists and shackles on my feet for approximately 10 days in a row."
- Children were allowed outside for only one hour a day. "I am suffering a lot being in the Yolo Juvenile Detention Center. It is a jail and I sleep in a locked, small jail cell. I can't leave here and have no freedom at all. We only get one hour of time outside each day. I have to live in a small cell with concrete walls."
- Clothes were taken away. "Whenever I was put in restriction, they took away my mattress and blanket. They took my clothes away about 8 times."
A separate court filing alleges that some children at the Shenandoah facility were strapped down and made to feel suffocated: "Strapped me down all the way; from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn't really move ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on."
The April lawsuit alleges that without proper oversight, the administration of these drugs to children in US facilities runs the risk of being used as "chemical straight-jackets."
Several of the children reported eventually leaving these centers and ending their medical regimens without problems.
But these centers continue to receive funding from the US government to care for migrant children who are considered unaccompanied minors. An investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal website published Wednesday found that in the past four years, nearly half of the $3.4 billion paid to 71 private companies that house migrant children went to 13 "operating homes facing serious allegations of child mistreatment."