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Judge orders migrant center to stop medicating kids without consent

A Honduran child draws while waiting with his family after being denied entry into the Texas city of Brownsville which has become dependent on the daily crossing into and out of Mexico.
A Honduran child draws after being denied entry into the Texas city of Brownsville. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty

After hearing testimony from migrant children and staff members from a Texas detention center, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered a halt on Monday to the reported practice of giving the children psychotropic drugs without parental consent, according to the Washington Post.

What they're saying:

“The staff threatened to throw me on the ground and force me to take the medication. 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.”
— A youth's testimony in a court filing

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee declared that the practice of medicating the children without parental consent violates child welfare laws. She also ordered that children be removed from Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, where the violations occurred, except in cases where children are deemed a danger to themselves or others, WashPost says.

The gritty details, per WashPost:

  • Drugs were only given in emergencies, when children demonstrated “extreme psychiatric symptoms," according to the center's officials. They did admit to giving medication without consent.
  • That's in contrast with testimony from children detained in the facility, who allege in court filings that they were given a host of medications without being told why.
  • One child said that she witnessed staff members "forcefully give medications four times." She, too, said she was prescribed multiple medications without parental consent. Her mother said that even though the staff had her contact information, "Nobody asked me for permission."
  • The government must use the "least restrictive" appropriate setting when detaining children, per the 1997 Flores agreement, a decision Gee upheld early this month.
  • Gee deemed the Shiloh facility's practice of 24-hour surveillance "not necessary for the protection of minors or others." One of the plaintiffs alleges the Office of Refugee Resettlement is pushing detainees into higher-security facilities than necessary, CNN reports.
  • Shiloh has been under scrutiny since it began housing unaccompanied minor children in 2013. The Center for Investigative Reporting has reported extensively on conditions in the Shiloh center.

Go deeper:

  • Gee's previous rulings this month.
  • The dangers of disease in migrant centers, in an Expert Voices piece by Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
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