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In Los Angeles, the unusual case of two immigrants whose deportations were botched by U.S. immigration officials has allowed a rare glimpse into internal proceedings within the Department of Homeland Security.
The two say that U.S. immigration officials drugged them in order to ease their removal from the country. But airline officials ultimately put a stop to the deportations. Now, both immigrants are back in Los Angeles, appealing their deportations. And they've had time to obtain government medical records that seem to confirm their accounts.
From member station KQED, Rob Schmitz reports.
ROB SCHMITZ: Raymond Soeoth is a Christian minister from Indonesia who came to the U.S. in 1999, fleeing religious persecution. Tears fill his brown eyes when he recalled the events of December 7, 2004; the day immigration agents told him he was going to be deported. One agent, says Soeoth, asked him if he needed medication to relax him for the trip. He replied no. But a few hours later, says Soeoth, several agents came into his cell. One of them, he says, was a medic. He was holding a syringe.
Mr. RAYMOND SOEOTH (Indonesian immigrant): Two officers grabbed my leg. Two officers grabbed my hand and they opened my pants. I said, why do you guys doing this to me, and then I'm crying. I said, why? I'm not enemy, I said.
SCHMITZ: Soeoth says the medic injected him in the buttocks. He says he lost consciousness on the way to the airport. The deportation was eventually cancelled, because agents failed to notify airline security.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement medical records, Soeoth was injected with Haldol. Psychiatrist Erik Roske works for the state of Maryland and is on the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on the Mentally Ill in Prisons. He says Haldol is a very powerful sedative.
Dr. ERIK ROSKE (Member, American Psychiatric Association's Committee on the Mentally Ill in Prisons): It's used for people who have psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe psychotic depression. It can also be used for people who have brain disorders like - that lead them to be delirious and agitated.
SCHMITZ: In Soeoth's case, the government medical records say a physician prescribed Haldol because Soeoth threatened to kill himself if he was deported. Soeoth denies he said this, and there is no documentation in his medical records of any other suicide threats nor is there any history of mental illness. Dr. Roske says Haldol should never be given to someone without a diagnosed mental illness.
Dr. ROSKE: It's shocking that they'll be used in such a situation. To me, it violates medical ethics.
SCHMITZ: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Marc Raimondi says sedation is sometimes necessary. Raimondi says he can't talk about Soeoth's specific case, but he did layout the circumstances under which a medically trained professional could forcefully sedate a detainee.
Mr. MARC RAIMONDI (Spokesman, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement): First, there would an attempt to do verbal counseling to get the detainee to comply and to calm down. If that failed, the next step would be to do physical constraints. And if that failed, then as a last resort, a sedative could be administered.
SCHMITZ: Raimondi says forcefully injecting a detainee with a sedative would only occur in extraordinary circumstances. That appeared to be the case in February of 2006, when immigration agents told Senegalese immigrant Amadou Diouf he was going to be deported. A federal court had given Diouf a stay of deportation, but agents brought him to the airport anyway. On the plane, Diouf asked to speak to the pilot. He says this angered his government-appointed medical escort who tried to force Diouf into the plane's lavatory.
Mr. AMADOU DIOUF (Senegalese Immigrant): He took the bag out. He took the syringe. At that point, I knew that, you know, that they were going to sedate me. Next thing you know, I refused to get inside the lavatory, anyway. But I was pushed to the back and I was (unintelligible) around.
SCHMITZ: Diouf says agents injected him with a drug and then they were kicked off the plane. He says his legs were so numb that on the way out, he fell down the plane's stairs onto the tarmac. Diouf's medical records confirmed that he was given medication, but it doesn't list the type of medication.
Georgetown law professor and immigration expert, David Cole says both Raymond Soeoth and Amadou Diouf stories are disturbing. He says forcefully sedating deportees is a clear breach of the law, and he says it's done to ease the deportation process.
Professor DAVID COLE (Law, Georgetown University): And since you're putting them on a plane to go somewhere where they are barred from coming back to United States, the likelihood that a complaint is ever going to come back is so small that there is no effective oversight, and you get these kinds of abuses.
SCHMITZ: The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, who is representing both Soeoth and Diouf, says his organization is investigating whether to file lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.
For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz in Los Angeles.
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