UPDATE: Trafficking victims are often deported without being screened

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | 5:58 p.m. CST; updated 10:54 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 16, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Federal agencies commonly deport immigrants without asking whether they have been victims of human trafficking, according to The Kansas City Star.

The Star also reported Wednesday that immigrants deported on one of two Kansas City-based government airlines have been abused or sedated in violation of federal regulations.

The story, which is the latest in the newspaper's five-part series, was based on numerous interviews, reviews of court documents and thousands of pages of reports released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In one case, the federal government deported most of the nearly 390 workers arrested after an immigration raid last year at a meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa.

One worker at the plant, Mardoqueo Valle-Callejas, told the Star he came to the U.S. illegally to earn money for his five children in Guatemala. He said he was forced to provide hours of free labor to his bosses, work when injured and had questionable fees deducted from his remaining earnings.

"These are classic examples of human trafficking victims," said attorney Sonia Parras Konrad, who is representing many of those swept up in the raid. But the federal government never screened the workers — some as young as 15 — to determine their victim status, she said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials acknowledged they were told of substandard working conditions and inadequate pay at the Postville plant, but they said no one claimed to be a human trafficking victim. If they had qualified as victims, they could have received aid and perhaps been allowed to remain in the U.S.

The Star also identified 100 instances, mostly between 2007 and 2009, in which the government violated or tried to sidestep its own rules for the treatment of deportees on government flights carrying trafficking victims and others who are vulnerable, such as children, the mentally ill, the sick and the dying.

Some deportees were put on four- to five-hour flights without needed medication, the newspaper reported. Others were harassed or denied permission to use restrooms on the planes, causing some to soil their clothing.

Numerous deportees were injected with "preflight cocktails" to sedate them before flights home from 2003 to 2007, the newspaper reported, citing Congressional testimony.

"These are very disturbing allegations and this is not permitted under our system," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that oversees detention and deportation procedures. That is "completely at odds with our policy," she noted, adding that The Star's findings should be investigated.


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