LOS ANGELES – U.S. immigration agents must not sedate deportees without a judge's permission, according to a policy change issued this week.
Immigration officials have acknowledged that 56 deportees were given psychotropic drugs during a seven-month period in 2006 and 2007 even though most had no history of mental problems. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit over the practice.
An internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo dated Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press on Friday said effective immediately, agents must get a court order before administering drugs "to facilitate an alien's removal."
"There are no exceptions to this policy," said the memo written by John Torres, detention and removal director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
To get a sedation order from court, officials must show deportees have a history of physical resistance to being removed or are a danger to themselves.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice verified the memo's authenticity.
"Medical sedation will only be considered as a last resort," she said.
The ACLU sued the agency in June to stop the practice, alleging it could constitute torture and violates the Bill of Rights and federal laws regarding the medical treatment of detainees.
The lawsuit, which is still pending, came after a handful of immigrants in Southern California claimed to have been drugged while the government attempted to deport them.
Senate testimony last year revealed that 33 of 56 deportees involuntarily given psychotropic drugs had no history of psychological problems. They were given the medicine because of "combative behavior," said Julie Myers, assistant secretary of homeland security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.