Lawsuit Claims Detained Migrant Children Have Been Forcibly Injected with Powerful Psychiatric Drugs

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Shocking reports have revealed that immigrant children were subdued and incapacitated with powerful psychiatric drugs at a detention center in South Texas. Legal filings show that children held at Shiloh Treatment Center in southern Houston have been “forcibly injected with medications that make them dizzy, listless, obese and even incapacitated,” according to reports by Reveal. Meanwhile, according to another Reveal investigation, taxpayers have paid more than $1.5 billion over the past four years to companies operating immigration youth facilities despite facing accusations of rampant sexual and physical abuse. For more, we speak with the reporter who broke these stories: Aura Bogado. She is an immigration reporter with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Her latest stories are “Immigrant children forcibly injected with drugs, lawsuit claims” and “Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Now we’re going to go to New Orleans. And we are just on the phone with Aura Bogado, who is immigration reporter with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Her latest stories headlined “Immigrant children forcibly injected with drugs, lawsuit claims” [link] and “Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations” [link]. Aura, tell us what you found.

AURA BOGADO: Hi, Amy. We’ve been looking into these migrant shelters for a while, and we have found over 100 allegations, investigation violations, crimes, for which people were sent to prison, and other kinds of examples in which some pretty serious stuff happened. Sometimes it has to do with the forcible injection of heavy psychotropic drugs on sometimes pretty young children, sexual assault allegations, solicitation of child pornography, for which someone is currently serving, I believe, a 10-year sentence, and some pretty horrific stuff.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you describe, Aura, what the effects—you learned about what the effects have been of some of these psychotropic drugs that children have been forcibly injected with?

AMY GOODMAN: And who gets to choose that they are being injected? What do they know about their medical histories?

AURA BOGADO: Yeah. What happens is that children go to a first shelter, and sometimes they’re stepped up. That’s the term that the government uses, is they’re “stepped up,” in terms of if they see a behavior that they don’t like in children, they can be referred to a psychiatrist, who then independently makes a determination.

In the case of a family here in New Orleans that I’ve been spending time with, there was a 9-year-old boy, who never had a history of mental illness. He repeatedly talked about wanting to leave, wanting to run away, wanting to connect—reconnect, to reunite with his mother, and tried to run away. And because of that behavior and some other behaviors, he was then referred to a psychiatrist, as I explained. That psychiatrist created a narrative in which he said that he recommended the child be placed under certain drugs. And the government then decided to take him to the Shiloh Treatment Center, which is a place right outside Houston, Texas. He was drugged there without his consent and without his mother’s consent for nearly six months.

The government knew the entire time where his mom was. They conducted two home visits where she lives. And they refused to give her custody of her child. She begged. She sometimes was angry. She sometimes tried negotiating. She tried so many different ways. And multiple text messages that I saw between her and the caseworker and her and other workers at this facility in Texas, and they would not give her her child back. Sometimes the response was nothing. She wouldn’t hear back from them for several days. It was often something like, “This is doctor’s orders. He has been prescribed that, and we can’t do anything about it.”

And, you know, when I talk about a residential treatment center, people might think that this is some kind of serious inpatient building or perhaps a large kind of estate in which people can really heal. What our investigation found is that there are a lot of properties that are associated with Shiloh, even though it only uses one main address. Most of those properties are trailers.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Aura, as far as you know, how long has this been going on?

AURA BOGADO: Shiloh, in particular, first got its contract from the government in 2013 to house immigrant children, but it has been housing children in general for a lot longer. Several years before then, a child that was in Shiloh’s custody died from being restrained there. It was still able to keep its license and continue operating. And there have been violations that the government—that the federal government knows about, that local officials have been outraged about, and that the state of Texas itself—I mean, we found a lot of this through public record. You can see inspection records as recently as December. There’s a report that said that very serious—some of these psychotropic medicines were left out in the reach of children, where they could just access them. There are a lot of inspection reports that indicate that not everything was up to par there.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Franco Ordoñez back into the conversation. You also reported Wednesday that Trump planned to erect tent cities to house immigrants since the start of his presidency. Reading from the beginning of your story, you write, “The Department of Homeland Security asked Congress for $95 million to erect tent cities in two locations in Texas to 'detain all immigration violators,' according to a budget document shared with McClatchy and provided to Congress in March of 2017.” Can you talk about the so-called soft-sided structure facilities in Tornillo and Donna, Texas, to house immigrants, possibly unaccompanied children or families, after the U.S. sees this surge in the number of immigrants crossing its southern border during the Obama administration?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ: Yes. I mean, essentially what we’re seeing is that the Trump administration, partially because of the “zero tolerance” policy, but because they’ve been pushing this enforcement since the beginning of the administration and had obviously planned to increase this enforcement right from the beginning, really, since the campaign, they ran out or are running out very quickly of detention space in these child shelters. They have no more room to put them. There’s about 11,200—more than that—children who are held without parents in these type of shelters. They’re about 95 percent full. So they need this extra space, so they’re building these tent cities to hold these children in those on military bases in order to accommodate the additional children that are being held. The ones that the tent cities are being—we’re told, are for unaccompanied minors, not the separated children. But if the children weren’t separated, there would be more space in those facilities. So these tent cities are to kind of make up for that missing space.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Aura Bogado, you have been reporting on this for a while, before “zero tolerance” policy was put into effect six weeks ago, and then Trump has reversed it with an executive order. People don’t even understand why he needed an executive order to do this. But when you talk about sexual abuse, kids being injected with drugs, being sent to psychiatrists to ask what their problem is, when they are just asking for their parents, to be reunited with her parents, and then when they’re upset, being injected or being given pills, the number of people they need to staff these places now, with the influx of children they’re imprisoning, and families, will make them even more vulnerable. Is that not right? I mean, what level of scrutiny does any person who is hired get right now, as these centers try to desperately staff up for thousands more people?

AURA BOGADO: Right. What these centers—these nonprofits—sometimes they’re private companies, sometimes they’re religious, sometimes they’re not—what they consistently have said in the past is, “We do a background check on everybody.” That’s probably true. I don’t know how extensive that background check is. Also, a background check—it’s likely that a lot of people would pass a background check and not necessarily understand how to deal with, you know, particularly young children who have experienced a lot of trauma. It’s hard to say. I obviously can’t look into the future and say, “Oh, for sure, we’ll see more allegations and more arrests and crimes that we can confirm.”

But, you know, when you have a lot of people that are coming into a space, a lot of young people, a lot of extremely vulnerable people, people who have been trafficked, people who have been through tremendous abuse, and not to mention the journey alone, that does create a very vulnerable population. And we know that vulnerable populations often are a prime target—unfortunately, an easy target for abusers. So, again, I can’t predict what’s going to happen. I don’t think it would surprise a lot of people if we start hearing about more allegations in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Aura Bogado, for joining us, immigration reporter for Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting. We’ll link to your pieces, “Immigrant children forcibly injected with drugs, lawsuit claims” [link] and “Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations” [link]. We want to thank Franco Ordoñez, White House correspondent for McClatchy Washington Bureau. His latest story, we’ll link to, “Trump’s immigration order replaces one crisis with another.”

This is Democracy Now! We’re going to go abroad next to Egypt to learn about what’s happening in Yemen, the U.S.-backed, Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen. We’re going to learn about what’s happening to Yemeni prisoners in UAE jails in Yemen. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Be Reasonable (And Demand the Impossible Now),” the legendary singer Barbara Dane, performing in our studio. Tonight she’s performing at Joe’s Pub here in New York.

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