Francisco Castaneda, a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador, died on February 16, 2008, from metastatic penile cancer.
He died because he went without getting a biopsy or receiving any medical treatment for about a year after obvious and excruciatingly painful symptoms began to show up. He went without the biopsy and the treatment because the United States government’s immigration Securitate had him locked in a cage at the time, and they repeatedly refused to let him get any treatment.
I came to the United States from El Salvador with my mother and siblings when I was ten years old to escape from the civil war. my family moved to Los Angeles where I went to school and began working at the age of 17. My mother died of cancer when I was pretty young, before she was able to get us all legal immigration status. After my mom died, I looked to my community for support, and found myself wrapped up in drugs instead, which, today, I deeply regret. I worked, doing construction, up until I went to prison on a drug charge, where I spent just four months before I was transferred into ICE detention.
When I entered ICE custody at the San Diego Correctional Facility in March 2006, I immediately told them I had a very painful lesion on my penis. After a day or two, Dr. Walker examined me and recognized that the lesion was a problem. He said he would request that I see a specialist right away.
But instead of sending me directly to a specialist, I was forced to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. All the while, my pain got worse. It started to bleed even more and smell really bad. I also had discharge coming out of it. Aparrently the Division of Immigration Health Services was deciding whether to grant the request. Dr. Walker submitted the request more than once and, after more than a month, it was finally granted. When I saw an oncologist he told me it might be cancer and I needed a biopsy. He offered to admit me to a hospital immediately for the biopsy, but ICE refused to permit a biopsy and told the oncologist that they wanted to try a more cost-effective treatment.
I was then referred to a urologist, Dr. Masters, but I only got to see that urologist two-and-a-half months later, after I filed sick call requests and grievances with ICE. The urologist said I needed a circumcision to remove the lesion and sop the pain and bleeding, and also said I needed a biopsy to figure out if I had cancer. ICE and the Division of Immigration Health Services never did either of those things. They said that it waselective surgery.
My pain was getting worse by the day. When you are in detention, you can’t help yourself. I knew I had a problem, but with everything you have to ask for help. I tried to get medical help everyday. Sometimes I would show the guards my underwear with blood in it to get them to take me to medical, but then they would say they couldn’t do anything for me. All they gave me was Motrin and other pain pills. At one point, the doctor gave me special permission to have more clean underwear and bedsheets, because I was getting blood on everything. A guard from my unit once told me he would pray for me because he could see how much I was suffering.
Several more requests for a biopsy were denied. They told me in writing that I could get the surgery after I left the facility—when I was deported.
In late November 2006, I was transferred from San Diego to San Pedro Service Processing Center. When I got there I immediately filed sick call slips about my problem. after a few days I saw the doctors. I told them about my pain and showed them the blood in my boxer shorts and asked them to examine my penis. They didn’t even look at it—one of them said I couldn’t be helped because I neededelective surgery.They just gave me more pain pills.
In the middle of December, I noticed a lump in my groin. It hurt a lot and was a little bit smaller than a fist, so I filed a sick call slip about it. Another detainee told me it could be a hernia. I never got any treatment for it, and I later found out that was a tumor, because the cancer had already spread.
In the beginning of January, one of the guards told me I was going to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. They put me in handcuffs and leg shackles and drove me in a van to the emergency room. When I got there the officer walked all around trying to find someone to see me, but he was told I would have to wait in line like everyone else. After about an hour of following him all chained up, he took me back to San Pedro and I didn’t get to see anyone.
Back when I was in San Diego, another detainee gave me the phone number for the ACLU and said they might be able to help me. I called them, and spoke with Mr. Tom Jawetz, here, and told him my story about how much pain I was in. When I got to San Pedro he sent letters and called the people at the facility to try to help me get medical care. Finally, around the end of January, immigration agreed to let me get a biopsy. They made an appointment with the doctor, but just before the surgery they released me from custody. A doctor actually walked me out of San Pedro and told me I was released because of my serious medical condition and he encouraged me to get medical attention.
The first thing I did was call the doctor to see whether I could still get my biopsy. The secretary told me ICE had cancelled it. I then went back to the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA—the same place they had left me in the waiting room in shackles—and I waited to see a doctor and finally get my biopsy. A few days later, the doctor told me that I ahd cancer and would have to have surgery right away to remove my penis. He said if I didn’t have the surgery I would be dead within one year. On February 14—Valentine’s Day—nine days after ICE released me from custody, I had the surgery to remove my penis. Since then, I have been through five aggressive week-long rounds of chemotherapy. Doctors said my cancer spreads very fast–it had already spread to my lymph nodes and maybe my stomach.
I’m sure you can at least image some of how this feels. I am a 35-year-old man without a penis with my life on the line. I have a young daughter, Vanessa, who is only 14. She is here with me today because she wanted to support me–and because I wanted her to see her father do something for the greater good, so that she will have that memory of me. The thought that her pain–and mine–could have been avoided almost makes this too much to bear.
I had to be here today because I am not the only one who didn’t get the medical care I needed. It was routine for detainees to have to wait weeks or months to get even basic care. Who knows how many tragic endings can be avoided if ICE will only remember that, regardless of why a person is in detention and regardless of where they will end up, they are still human and deserve basic, humane medical care.
In many ways, it’s too late for me. Short of a miracle, the most I can hope for are some good days with Vanessa and justice. My doctors are working on the good days and, thankfully, my attorneys at Public Justice here in Washington, Mr. Conal Doyle in California, and the ACLU are working on the justice–not just for me, but for the many others who are suffering and will never get help unless ICE is forced to make major changes in the medical care provided to immigrant detainees.
I am here to ask each of you, members of Congress, to bring an end to the unnecessary suffering that I, and too many others, have been forced to endure in ICE detention.
This man’s life could have been saved. He wanted to get medical treatment in March 2006. His doctor recommended a biopsy. If he were a free man, he could have gotten this treatment, but as a prisoner of the U.S. government’s Homeland Securitate, he was forced to stay where they wanted him to stay, go where they wanted him to go, and get what they wanted him to get. So he lived with excruciating pain for two years while the cancer grew, spread, and ate him away from the inside. It didn’t matter when he developed a painful lesion; it didn’t matter when he bled everywhere for months; it didn’t even matter when he developed a tumor the size of his fist. What matters to the ICE bordercrats, and their hired thugs, is that this man once possessed a stimulant that the U.S. government didn’t approve of him having, and, to their minds, that’s a good enough reason to grab him at gunpoint, lock him in a cage for months on end, and then exile him from the home he has lived in since he was 10 years old. Or, in this case, to just lock him in the cage and deliberately deny him medical treatment until the imprisonment turns into a slow-motion death sentence for a nonviolent petty drug charge. What, after all, is the life of Francisco Castaneda — who is, after all, only a man, a son, the father of a teenaged girl — compared with the duty to zealously protect the prohibitionist domestic policies of the U.S. federal government, the awful importance of rigorously preserving the sanctity of imaginary lines in the southwestern desert, and the honor of the politico-cultural system of international apartheid, which those lines are drawn to implement?
Federal judge Dean Pregerson just issued a ruling in which he denounced ICE’s actions, or inaction, as
conduct that transcends negligence by miles. It bespeaks of conduct that, if true, should be taught to every law student as conduct for which the moniker The primary practical effect of this ruling is that Francisco Casteneda’s family will be able to sue ICE in federal court for his death. They certainly deserve whatever compensation they can get for this horrible crime. But even if they succeed, it must be remembered that the sanctimonious, unaccountable thugs who effectively tortured a peaceful man to death — the immigration cops, the prison guards, and the comfortable bureaucrats, government lawyers, and politicians who direct them in their actions — will never pay a damned cent for what they did. What they will do, if a judgment is entered against them, is to help themselves to tax money in order to make the pay-out, sticking the rest of us—who never had anything to do with their asinine border laws, immigration prisons, or callous indifference to human life—with the bill. Then they will go on doing exactly the same vicious and inhuman things to peaceful people who never did anything to deserve such appalling treatment. And why wouldn’t they? As far as they can see, they have every reason to believe that none of them will ever be held personally accountable for their choices.
cruel is inadequate.