Federal immigration officials, over the past year, have dramatically curtailed the controversial practice of sedating deportees with powerful anti-psychotic medication.
The move followed court challenges and a public outcry over the practice, which often involved the use of Haldol, a drug used to treat schizophrenia.
Data collected through Freedom of Information Act requests by The Dallas Morning News show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement sedated only 10 people in the past fiscal year. Haldol was used in only three cases.
Over the past six years, through October, federal immigration personnel sedated 384 deportees, an average of 64 a year, the government disclosed. Of those cases, 356 involved the use of Haldol.
U.S. officials defended the sedation policy but declined to discuss it in detail, including the frequency with which sedation has been used, which led The News to request the information through the Freedom of Information Act.
U.S. officials say the procedure is done on the recommendation of medical personnel and now requires a court order - a change made when the American Civil Liberties Union began opposing the procedure and after Julie L. Myers, then assistant homeland security secretary, learned of the cases.
"When we do ask the court to involuntarily sedate, it is both necessary to effectuate removal and medically appropriate," said Pat Reilly, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.
Critics said there had been no effective oversight of the process, and some continue to say that the policy violates medical ethics. They praised the use of the court order and sedation restrictions.
"What you are seeing here is that the courts have proven once again that sunshine is the best disinfectant," said Wade Henderson, a lawyer and the president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.
Though the agency has dramatically reduced its use of Haldol to sedate deportees, the practice remains controversial.
Haldol is used to treat schizophrenia and such psychotic symptoms as hallucinations, delusions and hostility.
It is sometimes used in hospital emergency rooms to manage acute agitation and psychosis.
Medical authorities say the use of Haldol carries potential complications. The drug can trigger such adverse reactions as muscular spasms and a condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome that can result in a coma and even death if left untreated.
Scott Allen, an internist and co-founder of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights in Providence, R.I., said he opposes sedation except for deportees with schizophrenia or other mental illness.
"The medical community needs to assert itself and make clear the medical ethics of involuntary chemical restraint: It is not acceptable," he said.
As for its decline in use, Dr. Allen said, "That is certainly encouraging, but it enforces the impression they were overusing forced medication in the past."
ICE established the policy of requiring a court order for involuntary sedation of detainees during removal with "no exceptions" in January. ICE said it restated a policy from June 2007.
Ms. Myers, who resigned as assistant homeland security secretary last month, said she moved toward a policy of "getting a court order so only in the narrowest of circumstances would we proceed like this."
She defined the narrow circumstances in which sedation would be used as those in which the agency believes that "based on the advice of medical professional, that this is the only way to have a safe and secure deportation, and a court agrees with that."
The policy went into effect in June 2007 after the Los Angeles Daily News reported that two detainees had been forcibly drugged in an effort to sedate them for a deportation flight.
Last year, the ACLU sued the U.S. government on behalf of the two immigrants, one from Senegal and another from Indonesia. Attorneys for the men believe both were given Haldol. The case was settled for $55,000 in total for the two, and the government admitted no wrongdoing or liability.
In November 2007, the federal government attempted to get a court order to sedate an Albanian man who resisted deportation and boarding from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, screaming he would be killed if he were sent back to Albania.
The man, a political-asylum seeker, was aided by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, who wrote a private bill that effectively stalled the Albanian's deportation until early 2009.
The government's FOIA disclosures don't indicate whether all 384 sedations were forced or voluntary. But government officials and lawyers who have represented deportees said it is clear that a significant number were involuntarily sedated.
"Immigrants are not animals," said Ahilan Arulanantham, the ACLU attorney involved in the lawsuit against Homeland Security.
A FOIA request for government data for the five fiscal years prior to Oct. 1, 2002, was denied because the federal government said it was unable to locate any records.
The issue of sedations drew further attention in May, when The Washington Post reported its use in more than 250 cases.
The report was based in part on information from the confidential medical logs of deportees.
Even before the policy shift, the practice was used in a relative handful of deportations. In fiscal year 2007, more than 240,000 people went through deportation proceedings.
The documents show that sedation was used disproportionately against Africans, leading some to suggest that race was a factor.
"The racial dimensions add a particularly troubling dimension to what was already an unacceptable regime of choices," said Mr. Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
U.S. officials deny that race was a factor.
"Nationality is purely coincidental," said Ms. Reilly, the ICE spokeswoman.
Over the six years, nearly 40 percent of those sedated with Haldol were Africans. No other continent had that high a percentage. The cases cover a period from October 2002 through October of this year.
According to the federal data, sedations with Haldol were scattered among deportees from all over Africa, but clusters can be found among deportees from Guinea, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal and Uganda.
Former Dallas resident Stanley Ukeni of Nigeria was deported in October 2007 after overstaying a visitor visa by more than a decade.
Mr. Ukeni pleaded with immigration officials to let him stay in the U.S., saying he had provoked the wrath of high-ranking officials in Nigeria with human-rights work he had done there on behalf of the Ibo tribe. He said he feared he would be tortured if he returned.
According to Mr. Ukeni, immigration officials gave him a choice: He could land in Lagos, Nigeria, sedated and manacled, or he could remain unsedated, fully conscious and better able to protect himself from harm. He chose to go peacefully and avoided sedation.
In a phone conversation from a relative's home in Nigeria, Mr. Ukeni said he would like to return "home" to Dallas, where he has two small U.S.-born children with his girlfriend. E-mails from Mr. Ukeni and a letter from his Nigerian attorney asserted that Mr. Ukeni had been abducted and severely beaten several times since his return.
ICE officials would not discuss specifics of Mr. Ukeni's case.
But Ms. Reilly acknowledged that deportees are on their own once they arrive in their home country.
"When we remove a person from the United States," she said, "our authority over them ends when they leave an aircraft in their country of origin."