A photo of pills on a shelf.

How It Is

America Has a Long History of Drugging Kids

Migrant children, like Black foster children before them, are being medicated without consent. It's all part of a divisive strategy to stoke racial tension and strengthen white supremacy.

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We’ve been watching a live horror show, bearing witness to migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents and shoved into detention centers, where they face the dangers of physical and sexual abuse and sex trafficking. And it has only gotten more horrifying with the recent revelation that these children are being force-fed psychotropic medications with potentially dangerous side effects.

“Children held at facilities such as the Shiloh Treatment Centre in Texas are almost certain to be administered the drugs, irrespective of their condition, and without their parents’ consent, according to the lawsuit filed by the L.A.-based Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law,” reports Reuters.

What’s worse—and yes, it gets worse—is that the psychiatrist prescribing the medication to immigrant children at one federally funded residential treatment center in Texas has “practiced without board certification to treat children and adolescents for nearly a decade,” according to Reveal News.

But know this: This is not the first time we’ve seen this happen on American soil. Not at all: Separating families and medicating children as a means of control is an American tradition, one Black America knows all too well. The foster care system has been administering psychotropic medications to foster children, most of them Black children, since the 1990s.

A 2015 report from the Franklin Law Group, a child advocacy organization based in Baltimore, found that since the 1990s there has been a 55-percent increase in the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, including infants, who are prescribed mind-altering drugs at rates nine times higher than children not in foster care. These psychotropic drugs are often prescribed for traumatized and grieving children as a way to control their behavior and turn them into manageable zombies in lieu of counseling services, which are often not available because they are more expensive than drugs. Kids labeled violent, explosive, or difficult become easier to manage when they are chemically sedated. And many kids in care are administered these drugs without parental consent. Immigrant children are also being subject to the same risks because their parents are in the criminal justice system (even for a misdemeanor like crossing the border illegally). In my child advocacy work, I have met kids in care who were taking four or five psychotropic medications at a time, even though there was no real medical evidence to support their regimens.

Black children, especially girls, are diagnosed with psychological disorders at higher rates and prescribed off-label medications with black box warnings indicating that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not sanction the drugs for children. The drugs are only calibrated for adults because these medications can only be trialed on adults for determination of efficacy—these psychiatric medications were not intended for children’s usage.

The ramifications of this are staggering because their brains are still developing. Numerous reports on the unregulated medication of children have found that long-term use causes serious side effects and long-term consequences. Taking these medications can “suppress and disrupt normal brain development and function, alters chemical levels in the brain, and impacts mood and behavior,” according to the Baltimore Law Group report. They have also been found to cause neurological disorders, breast development in boys, brain shrinkage, obesity, cardiovascular issues, violent behavior, suicidal ideations, restlessness, low energy, aggression, diabetes, insomnia, memory loss, and even shortening of the lifespan by 25 years.

With the news spotlight shining on undocumented immigrants, I’m hearing a lot of Black people saying things like: Illegal immigration isn’t our fight. Latinos are not our allies. They are taking jobs from Black people. They depress our wages. Latinos are racist against Black people. A lot of them voted for Trump.

Know this: The huge Latino presence in the United States results directly from decades of our own government’s actions in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, forcing millions to flee their homelands. Refugees are a side-effect of the reality of living in a country where so much power is held by narco-terrorists whose profits stem from America’s insatiable appetite for drugs.

U.S. politicians use illegal immigration as a tool to create divisions instead of attacking the actual problems caused by big corporations and exploitative labor practices. They focus on the presence of undocumented people when the real problem is that large corporations get away with hiring them to work in backbreaking conditions at unlivable wages. Trade deals like NAFTA decimated industries, especially farming, in countries like Mexico, creating a huge population that could no longer depend on their livelihood. The CIA and our military have a long history of destabilizing their governments. If we aren’t strangling another country’s economy, we are destroying it with bombs. We create these refugees, who are then used to push a white supremacist agenda.

What does this have to do with the need for Black and Latino people to resist the manipulations to turn us against each other in debates over undocumented immigrants?

Treva B. Lindsey, a professor at Ohio State University, wrote in Vox.com about the dangers of the working poor turning against each other. “In a 2013 poll on African-American perspectives on immigration reform, 34 percent of respondents stated that immigrants took jobs away from American workers. Thirty-nine percent of respondents believe that immigrants drive down wages for African Americans … Positioning one group of low-wage workers against another group of low-wage workers is an insidiously effective method of fomenting resentment and tensions among workers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, which only buttresses the status quo.” Lindsey further argues that existing data simply doesn’t support any definitive correlation between the stark unemployment rate of African Americans and the employment of recent immigrants.

Without Black-Latino solidarity, both groups will suffer much more severe ramifications of the “Make America White Again” movement driving our government and large parts of the citizenry. Solidarity is simple common sense: United, we are much more powerful than we are divided. The powers that be work hard to keep us distrusting and fighting each other, which keeps us from forming coalitions and strategic alliances while distracting us from working against their efforts to subjugate and oppress us.

The key to immigrant solidarity is understanding that these people are refugees fleeing the wrath of U.S. imperialism abroad. We are ALL suffering under U.S. imperialism. We can’t divide ourselves. When Latinos harbor anti-Black racism it doesn’t gain them acceptance and vice versa—this system does not benefit any of us.

We know that U.S. rhetoric about “democracy” has nothing to do with the truth. We are hurtling toward a fascist nation. To fight for our survival, we must understand that this fascism is a hydra that needs to be attacked on several fronts. Solidarity, learning to understand and respect each other’s cultures and issues, is absolutely key to presenting a united front. Otherwise, we make the deadly mistake of playing right into the hands of those who will attempt to divide and conquer us.

The heart-rending images, sounds, and stories that have emerged from these family separations at the border are hitting home for many Black Americans, who know this pain and feel it on a visceral level. At the same time, some Black people are conflicted, not quite ready to move past suspicions against Latinos and fully embrace them as allies interested in and capable of solidarity with Black people.

We do not have the luxury of indulging in believing that “We’ve got to watch out for our own, and only our own.” That type of insularity is a failed strategy. The only way we can truly take on these systems and change them for the better is to work together.

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