immigrant children

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, of the Central District of California, just ruled that detention centers must stop forcing immigrant children in their custody to take psychotropic drugs.

Judge Gee ruled on Tuesday that if the Trump administration wants to continue its practice of drugging immigrant children, they must obtain consent from a parent. According to the Washington Post, Gee also ordered the immediate relocation of all children currently held at the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Texas, except for children who have been deemed a legitimate risk by a licensed professional.

As Grit Post reported in June, children at the Shiloh facility were forcibly drugged on a daily basis. Court records show that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) — the division within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees immigrant detention centers — “routinely administers children psychotropic drugs without lawful authorization.

“When youth object to taking such medications, ORR compels them. ORR neither requires nor asks for a parent’s consent before medicating a child, nor does it seek lawful authority to consent in parents’ stead,” a memo filed in a lawsuit states. “Instead, ORR or facility staff sign ‘consent’ forms anointing themselves with ‘authority’ to administer psychotropic drugs to confined children.”

One of the children who was drugged, whom court records identify as “Julio Z.,” said that he was thrown on the floor and drugged when he refused to take the pills handed to him.

“I also saw staff throw another youth to the ground, pry his mouth open and force him to take the medicine,” Julio stated. “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.”

Some immigrant children reported multiple side effects of the drugs ORR officials gave them, which included dizziness, nausea, depression, and weight gain.

“I witnessed staff members forcefully give medication four times,” Isabella M., one of the Shiloh detainees, said in court records. “…Two staff members pinned down the girl…. and a doctor gave her one or two injections.”

The ORR defended the drugging of child detainees, saying that administering the drugs was necessary due to medical emergencies. But Judge Gee cast doubt on that argument, writing that there “could not have possibly” been enough medical emergencies at Shiloh on a daily basis to necessitate forcing children to take psychotropics.

Among the drugs prescribed without parental consent were, according to the lawsuit filed April 16, Clonazepam, Divalproex, Duloxetine, Guanfacine, Latuda, Geodon, and Olanzapine. Lawyers for the plaintiffs stated that administering those drugs, without proper oversight, could cause serious and permanent damage for children.

“Without [oversight], the potential for abuse — including using drugs as ‘chemical straight-jackets’ to control children, rather than to treat actual mental health needs — is unacceptably high,” lawyers wrote.

Even though President Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s practice of separating undocumented children from their parents when arrested at the border, he has failed to meet a court-imposed deadline to reunite families, as several hundred immigrant children still remain separated from their parents.


Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at 

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