Some Detainees Are Drugged For Deportation

Under that policy, scores of people have been sedated every year since then, usually with heavy psychotropic drugs.

Some countries forbid the practice. The medical files for several deportees recount disputes between U.S. officials, who wanted to inject a subject, and foreign officials, who would not allow it.

Immigration guards and a public health nurse ran into trouble in May 2004, during a stopover on a trip from Colorado to Guinea. The deportee had been given the three-drug cocktail at the airport gate before leaving Denver, the nurse wrote in the log. Three "booster doses" followed.

The last booster was given shortly before the plane landed in Belgium. "[N]o problem initially with Belgium security," the log says. "[T]hen approached and informed illegal to medicate detainee against their will in Belgium. Informed them pt wasn't medicated in Belgium airspace for which they replied that he is medicated in Belgium." In the end, the security officers let the deportation go ahead.

Immigration guards and a nurse had more trouble during another deportation to Guinea in April 2006, as they escorted a 34-year-old man from Atlanta, with a stop in France.

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A Long Trip Home A graphical timeline of Michel Shango's deportation trip, based on a log filled out by a U.S. public health nurse who was his medical escort.
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He had been given 15 milligrams of Haldol, as well as the two other drugs, by the time the flight reached Paris at 9:45 a.m. According to a nurse's report on the incident, the guards, nurse and deportee were met at the plane by French national police, who accompanied them to an airport police station to await the connecting flight to Africa later in the day.

Once at the station, one of the guards asked a French officer "where we could inject the detainee when needed." First, they were shown into a private area. But five minutes later, the nurse's report says, "a superior French police officer approached and informed me that any type of involuntary injection was strictly forbidden in France, and that we would have to wait until we were in the aircraft if we were to inject our detainee."

Six hours later, the entourage returned to the boarding area for the flight to Guinea. "When we arrived at the plane, the detainee became very argumentative, refusing to enter plane until [the guards] produced paperwork showing a final deportation order," the nurse wrote. The immigration officers tried to coax him onto the plane. He refused.

"I asked the French police if the ramp on the gate would be an appropriate place to medicate," the nurse wrote. "The French police's reply was that it was strictly forbidden." The plane's captain came over to say that he would not allow the deportee onto the flight. The guards and the nurse flew him back to Atlanta.

Five weeks later they tried again, and this time, they reached Guinea. By the time they arrived, a nurse had given the deportee nine injections of Haldol totaling 55 milligrams -- nearly four times as much as before.

* * *

Time in Custody Varies For Detained Immigrants Foreigners detained by immigration officials spent an average of 37 days in custody during fiscal 2007, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Detainees, though, can be held for a much longer or much shorter time, depending on their circumstances. Under a practice that was expanded during the summer of 2006, undocumented immigrants caught within 100 miles of the Mexican border -- and within 14 days of their entry into the United States -- are deported swiftly under an "expedited removal" program. These immigrants usually do not have a hearing before a judge. On the other hand, some immigrants are detained for months or even years if they challenge their deportation in federal courts.

Here is a breakdown of time in custody for fiscal 2006, the most recent information ICE could provide. The figures exclude nearly 5,800 detainees who are seeking asylum.

Less than three months: 206,325
Three to six months: 10,828
Six to nine months: 2,644
Nine months to one year: 1,269
More than one year: 1,809

One deportee who was sedated last year had convictions for armed robbery and assault. Another kept telling immigration officers, "I am God." But many of those injected with psychotropic drugs, records show, are neither violent nor mentally ill. They simply do not want to go home.

"[M]ild anxiety and agitation" is how a deportation log describes Remmy Semakula's state on the afternoon he was taken from his cell in the Middlesex County jail in New Jersey to be deported to Uganda in early April 2007. According to a memo from his deportation officer, he had said earlier that he would "fight with the officers and obstruct the operation of the airline" if guards tried to force him to go home. Semakula, 42, said that he had not tried to thwart his deportation and had not known it was imminent because his immigration case still was before a federal judge. "I never fought violently or physically," he said. "They just grabbed me and injected me with a sleeping drug."

The first time immigration agents tried to deport Michel Shango, he slammed his head, hard, against the outside of the van that had come to pick him up at Atlanta's city jail. Instead of being driven to the airport, then flown to the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was brought back to the jail so his wound could be tended to.

"I asked him why he feared being returned back to his country," an immigration officer wrote of the incident. Shango, now 42, replied that he had been a journalist and had written articles critical of the Congolese government. "Detainee stated . . . that he might as well die trying to avoid deportation," a second officer wrote, "because they will kill him as soon as he gets to the D.R. of the Congo."

Until early 1996, Shango worked in Congo, ghostwriting articles and supplying information to foreign correspondents about the repressive administration of President Mobutu Sese Seko, he said in telephone interviews from locations in Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where friends are now helping him hide. Eventually Shango was arrested, he and two of his lawyers said, but he escaped to Canada, then settled in North Carolina, where he started a limousine business with a cousin in Charlotte. He married an American, who at first offered to help him become a citizen. The marriage dissolved. He applied for political asylum. He was turned down.

He was remarried to a Congolese woman by the time immigration officers came to his house at 4:30 one morning in May 2006. As his wife and their three American-born children cried at the frightening scene, the officers led him away at gunpoint.

In their own words Deportee describes sedation drugs' effect
Glossary/Cast of Characters Michel Shango describes more of his deportation experience.Press play to listen.
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On Feb. 28, 2007, three months after the first deportation attempt was aborted because of the head-banging incident, seven guards arrived at the Atlanta jail to make a second attempt. Shango glanced at his watch and noted that it was 1:45 p.m. "They pushed me against the wall," he recalled. "They pulled my pants down." His medical log shows that he was given seven shots in his right buttock and right shoulder before he boarded the airplane.

The log says his only psychological problem was "anxiety disorder."

By the time Shango reached Congo, records show, he had been injected with 32.5 milligrams of Haldol and 7.5 milligrams of Ativan. As he was thrown into a prison after he got off the plane, and even as friends helped him escape, he was so disoriented, he said, that he did not fully know where he was. For two weeks, Shango said, "It was like I was dreaming. . . . I started crying, crying, crying all day long. . . . I was like crazy, because [of] the drugs, knocking me down."

* * *

Of all the detainees who have been forcibly drugged, only two have drawn much public attention. Neither, in the end, was deported. And compared with other deportees, neither got large doses of sedatives. But publicity about their cases sent shock waves through the immigration bureaucracy. Raymond Soeoth, a Christian minister from Indonesia, had tried and failed to win asylum in the United States. While in custody at an immigration compound near Los Angeles, his medical log notes, Soeoth, now 39, he said he would kill himself if deported -- a statement his lawyers say he never made.

On Dec. 7, 2004, he was injected in the left buttock with five milligrams of Haldol and four milligrams of Cogentin before being taken to the airport. As it turned out, his deportation was canceled before takeoff because immigration officials had not alerted airline security in Singapore, a stopover point.

Amadou Diouf came to the United States from Senegal as a student in 1996 and got a degree in information systems from California State University at Northridge. He married a U.S. citizen and was trying to change his immigration status when, in March 2005, he was arrested and brought to the same compound as Soeoth.

Eleven months later, as he was still appealing his case and, according to his lawyers, had a court order blocking his deportation, immigration officers came for him and took him to the airport for the trip back to Senegal.

At first, records show, Diouf, now 32, was calm. He was already sitting in a window seat, 4A, when he demanded to speak to the plane's captain. He "became more agitated, anxious and loud in his dialogue," according to the medical log. A nurse said he would be given "some calming medicine," but when Diouf saw the needle, he lunged. Guards "proceeded to take down the detainee to the ground" in the plane's galley, and the nurse injected him with five milligrams of Haldol, two milligrams of Ativan and two milligrams of Cogentin.

At that point, the guards and nurse called off the trip. Diouf was returned to his cell. In early May 2007, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California was drafting a lawsuit on behalf of Soeoth and Diouf and told a local newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, about their sedations. Across the continent, inside the immigration health division's headquarters in downtown Washington, the publicity's effect was electric.

The next day, the chief of psychiatry for the division's aviation medicine branch dispatched a memo. "I have stopped all planned non-psychiatric behavioral escorts, of which 10 are currently planned," he wrote, until government lawyers "have formalized policy in regards to this type of escort activity."

A month and a half later, the medical escort rules were changed. Except in psychiatric cases, according to a confidential June 21 memo from ICE, the health division "must have a court order to assist. . . . [ICE in] removal of problematic detainees." In January, the language was made even stronger: "DIHS may only involuntarily sedate an alien to facilitate removal where the government has obtained a court order. There are no exceptions to this policy."

The newest rules were issued less than three weeks before the government tentatively settled the lawsuit with Soeoth and Diouf, who are now out of custody. The government is no longer trying to deport Soeoth; Diouf is still fighting to remain in the country.

How well the government is following its new rules is unclear. Asked how many court orders the government has sought, immigration officials said that none "have been issued to involuntarily sedate an alien for removal purposes," but they declined to discuss whether any requests are pending.

In one known case in which government lawyers sought a court order, they withdrew the request after a congressman intervened. On Oct. 1, a federal judge in Texas was asked for permission to sedate Rrustem Neza. Immigration officers had canceled their first attempt to deport him to Albania because he created a scene at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, screaming, "I am not a terrorist."

One week after the government filed its motion, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), a former judge, wrote to the court, saying he had "grave concerns" about the government's desire to medicate his constituent to deport him. "Mr. Neza fled Albania after telling a crowd in Tropoje the names of the men who were seen killing Azem Hajdari, who organized a student movement against the Communist Party. Mr. Neza's cousins were fatally shot while fleeing with him," the congressman wrote. "[S]edating Mr. Neza amounts to a death sentence for an innocent man."

Last March, after Gohmert had spoken about Neza's case with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and after he had introduced legislation to block Neza's deportation, the issue was dropped.

* * *

In at least one instance since the rules were changed, the government apparently drugged a deportee without permission from a judge. Maher Ayoub, now 44, was sent back to Egypt last August. A month later, immigration officials told Congress that they had not yet asked for a court order in any case.

Ayoub had thwarted the first attempt to deport him, a few months earlier, by sitting in a van and demanding all the paperwork in his immigration file. He said he spent the next three months in segregation in an Elizabeth, N.J., detention center. The next time they tried to send him home, immigration officers were determined to make sure he would go quietly.

His record offers contradictory evidence about whether there was psychiatric justification for the drugs he got, though it seems to suggest that there was not. A one-page "patient summary" for Ayoub says "Med/Psych Alert Documents: None." His medical escort log labels him a mental health case and says he had a "depressed mood" and an "anxiety state."

A handwritten note in his escort file, from a psychiatrist who saw him at the Elizabeth center, first says Ayoub was not likely to endanger himself or anyone else -- then, lower on the same page, says he might. On the next page of the file is another note, this one written two days before his flight, from the psychiatrist in charge of aviation medicine. It says that Ayoub's case is a "behavioral escort," not a psychiatric one, and that the nurse "is only to give medications to the patient if he agrees to take them. He will only use involuntary treatment if the patient is at imminent risk of hurting himself or others."

That is not what happened.

"Detainee tearful and wringing hands," his medical log begins. An hour later, it says: "Detainee increasingly agitated and resisting clothing change. Detainee is now crying and screaming" at two guards. A nurse at the Elizabeth detention center slid two milligrams of the anti-anxiety drug, Ativan, into his left shoulder.

Immigration officials said his deportation was "consistent" with the June policy that allows medication only when a detainee "may be a risk to himself or others."

"I was feeling my head was leaving my body," Ayoub remembers. "I was losing control over my body." He was groggy but awake when he arrived with guards and the nurse at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and boarded the nonstop flight to Egypt.

Before the plane took off, he remembers, he called over a flight attendant and "asked them to tell the pilot I didn't want to leave." The nurse stuck a needle into his right arm this time. That injection put him to sleep.

Staff researcher Julie Tate and database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.

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