Immigrant Kids to Get Monitor After Forced-Medication Claims

(Bloomberg) -- A judge ordered independent oversight of U.S. immigration authorities’ handling of detained children amid allegations that some were being forcibly medicated at a Texas facility.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said at a hearing in Los Angeles Friday that “persistent” problems require oversight and she’ll appoint someone in the next two weeks.

The Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation said in a May 25 court filing that the procedures for placing unaccompanied alien children in secured facilities are governed by a 2008 federal law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, rather than by a 1997 settlement that set standards for the treatment of immigrant children detained by the government.

In addition, the Justice Department has said the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center, where according to the human rights lawyers the minors are medicated against their will, cares for children with a a very high level of mental health needs and/or violent histories and is monitored closely by the State of Texas for compliance with its child welfare laws.

“Shiloh’s Texas state license also mandates that it comply with applicable Texas state laws concerning informed consent with regard to the prescription of psychotropic medications to children in state residential treatment facilities,” the Justice Department said in court filings.

The judge rejected the government’s arguments after lawyers for the children said they were being locked up “without the most rudimentary procedural fairness” and forced to take psychotropic drugs against their will and without their parents’ consent.

“Awakening youth in the small hours of the morning and transferring them to juvenile lock-ups without notice or opportunity to be heard breaks faith with both law and common decency,” the attorneys said in a June 15 federal court filing in Los Angeles.

The 33-year-old lawsuit that led to the Flores settlement in 1997 has surfaced recently in the wake of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration sweep, in which federal officials separated families in order to prosecute adults who crossed the border illegally. After a public outcry against that practice, the Justice Department asked Gee to modify the settlement, citing the Flores agreement’s rules for why it had to split parents from children. The judge denied that request.

The case is Flores v. Meese, 85-cv-04544, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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