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 men 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.
Both immigrants are back in Los Angeles, appealing their deportations. And they've now obtained government medical records that seem to confirm their accounts.
One of the men, Raymond Soeoth, is a Christian minister from Indonesia who came to the United States in 1999 to flee religious persecution. But on Dec. 7, 2004, immigration agents told him he was going to be deported.
Soeoth says that an agent asked him if he needed medication to relax him for the trip. He replied that he did not. 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.
"Two officers grabbed my legs, two officers grabbed my hands. Then they opened my pants. And then I said, 'Why are you guys doing this to me?' and I was crying and crying, and I said 'Why? I'm not animal.'"
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, Soeth was injected with Haldol, a very powerful sedative.
In Soeoth's case, his government medical records say a physician prescribed Haldol because Soeoth threatened to kill himself if he was deported.
Soeoth denies that he said this; there is no documentation in his medical records of any other suicide threats, or any history of mental illness.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Mark Raimondi says sedation is sometimes necessary, but that he cannot talk about Soeoth's specific case.
Still, Raimondi says that before drugs were administered, "First there would be an attempt to do verbal counseling to get the detainee to comply and calm down. If that failed, the attempt would be to do physical constraints. If that failed, then, as a last resort, a sedative could be administered."
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 that 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.
"He took the bag out, and he took the syringe," Diouf said. "At that point I knew that, you know, they're going to sedate me. Next thing you know, I refused to get inside the lavatory anyway, and I was pushed to the back and wrestled to the ground."
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 confirm that he was given medication. It does not list the type of medication.
The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is representing both Soeoth and Diouf says his organization is investigating whether to file a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.
Rob Schmitz reports from member station KQED.