Five immigrant children are suing President Donald Trump over “jail-like” conditions and cruel treatment they say received in the custody of federal agents.
Filed Friday, the complaint claims that policies being pursued by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Health and Human Services are “causing grave harm to children,” both psychologically and physically. The suit faults “restrictive conditions,” similar to prison facilities.
Newsweek reports that the minors are the same who claim to have been treated against their will with psychotropic drugs—a story covered by LegalReader.com in late June. While that development dealt with litigation against Shiloh Treatment Center, the most recent suit names the federal government as a defendant.
Challenging the Trump administration head-on, the children say their abuse is a result of “cruel policies and practices that unlawfully prolong their detention and delay their reunification with their families.”
“When children are held in government custody apart from their primary caregivers for long periods, they suffer profound and long-lasting injury,” says the suit.
BuzzFeed reports that the young plaintiffs, aged between 12 and 17, hail from several Central American countries—Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, along with Mexico. Attorneys argue they’ve “suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm” as their incarceration continues.
Listed only by their four names, the children—Lucas, Daniela, Miguel, Gabriela and Jaime—have been in ORR custody for up to a year and a half each. Most suffer from anxiety and depression, brought on by the harsh circumstances of confinement.
“Flying dazed, shackled children across the country in the middle of the night, jailing them like criminals, drugging them without parental or judicial authorization, and needlessly keeping them from family members who are able and willing to care for them is resulting in extreme deterioration of their mental health and causing lasting emotional harm,” said National Center for Youth Law attorney Leecia Welch.
The NCYL, working with the University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic, the UC Davis Civil Rights Clinic, and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, accuses the government of violating the 1997 Flores Agreement.
Under the Flores Agreement, children detained as illegal immigrants are supposed to be released to any available, qualified guardian within 20 days. Facilities housing undocumented youth are supposed to be less restrictive than jails or other units intended to inflict punishment.
But at Shiloh, standards of care are so low that Reveal News likened the children to “zombies,” kept passive with medication—medication that psychiatrists say isn’t designed for still-developing neural networks.
“You don’t need to administer these kinds of drugs unless someone is plucking out their eyeballs or some such,” said forensic psychiatrist Mark J. Mills, who examined the medical records of the children kept at Shiloh. “The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for.”
Among the substances used to restrain the immigrant children were antipsychotics like olanzapine and quetiapine, used to combat schizophrenia and control mood disorders.
“That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do,” remarked Mills, who’d obtained the medication list from court filings.
Attorneys for the children are demanding an injunction against similar practices at other detention facilities within the United States, along with unspecified damages for the immigrant kids. They also hope to transform the litigation into a class action, noting that “the size of the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”