The recent and ongoing debacle at the Mexican border has shed light on many of the travesties occurring behind the scenes with immigration, disrupted families, and the mistreatment of children who have been apprehended. Stories of abuses in detention and residential facilities, forced injections and drugging of children for behavioral control, and degrading treatment of the kids locked up in these facilities are heartbreaking and abhorrent.
The thing is, none of this is new. The abuse and trauma that is being perpetrated on these immigrant children is able to exist because we have not been paying attention for a long time.
Immigration policies in America have long had a racist bent and differed based on region of origin. Scapegoating immigrants for problems with national security, unemployment, and crime, did not begin with Trump.
Scapegoating mental illness is another smokescreen allowing us to ignore the problems in our society, in our families, and with our humanity. We, as a society, have become numb to the idea that drugging our children for the purpose of behavioral control is a normal and acceptable idea.
Isolation, demeaning and threatening behaviors on the part of staff, children not knowing if or when they will leave, forced injections and tranquilization — former patients of detention and residential facilities have been describing this inhumanity as the norm for decades. No, certainly, it does not equate with putting children in cramped cages. That it doesn’t escalate to overt abuse or illegal activity doesn’t excuse it. To the contrary, it is our acceptance of this as a norm that allows for abusive situations to arise so easily. Especially when the child is a minority.
Foster children are typically put on upwards of six potent psychotropic drugs daily and are diagnosed with the most severe disorders at a far higher rate than their same-age counterparts. Black persons are much more likely to be diagnosed with severe disorders and excessively drugged as well. In other words, those children who are at the greatest risk of oppression and have experienced abuse and family separation are also those most likely to be heavily drugged, diagnosed, and locked away. Immigrant children are only one of the many victim groups in this regard.
If we accept that children can and should be heavily drugged on a regular basis for purposes of control, then it should be no surprise when this happens on a massive scale with dehumanized children from another country.
These drugs are not medications specific to a known disease process — their routine use is for managing behavior, tranquilizing and subduing intense emotional expression or distress, and forced compliance with doctors’ wishes. Even when parental consent is obtained, parents are rarely provided information regarding alternative options, the dangerous, sometimes life-long consequences of these drugs, or the true reasons for their use.
Reports that children are being told that the only way out of these detention facilities is to comply and take the drugs is the norm in any psychiatric or juvenile detention facility. Children in such treatment facilities are, indeed, suffering, whether they are immigrants, in foster-care, victims of abuse or bullying, members of a violent community, or otherwise intensely distressed — and sometimes drugs can help ease the pain and make life more tolerable or worth living. This does not justify the use of multiple, toxic drugs forced for the purpose of behavioral management, and subduing or controlling people.
The inhumanity of what is happening to these innocent migrant children cannot be overstated. However, it would not be so easy for such practices to manifest if they were not already so widely accepted in these facilities as a form of medical treatment. Perhaps this can be an opportunity to do alter the status quo of how we treat children, in general, in our society, rather than focusing on managing crises once they erupt.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.