Posts tagged DHS

A feature, not a bug

So border-psychotic Jan Brewer, proponent of ethnic cleansing and arbitrary Governor over the state of Arizona, is unhappy with the U.S. federal government. The Feds recently got part of her racist Papers-Please police-state bill struck down in court; so she has decided to sue them back:

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said Thursday that she will raise private funds to countersue the federal government for failing to enforce immigration laws…. At a news conference, Ms. Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne said the Obama administration had failed to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border in huge numbers and stuck the state with the cost of dealing with its failed policies…. In their legal challenge, the state intends to argue that it is being “invaded” by illegal immigrants from Mexico.

— Arizona: State Countersues Over Immigration Law, New York Times Briefs (11 February 2011)

This is of course a desperate stab at protecting a vicious and idiotic policy — in which a tiny minority of power-mongering Arizonans are trying to use a suit in federal court to get the U.S.’s paramilitary Border Patrol and Immigration Enforcement squads to pour into their state, in order to assault, imprison, and exile the large number of perfectly peaceful travelers and longtime residents of Arizona, who happen to be there without papers from the federal government; but in a typical statist inversion, it is the peaceful travelers and the longtime residents, not the militarized, due-process-free federal occupation forces that are described as invaders. Ho, ho.

However, while I can’t say I have any sympathy for Jan Brewer or her fellow power-mongers, I can say that I’m actually glad to hear about this lawsuit. Why? Because, as A Spokesman For The Department of Homeland Security puts it:

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Matt Chander said in a statement in response, A meritless claim such as this does nothing to secure the border.

— Arizona: State Countersues Over Immigration Law, New York Times Briefs (11 February 2011)

Precisely; that’s why, despicable as I think Brewer’s cause is, I’m happy to see the claim being pressed. Every day and every dollar that the state government spends fighting a futile court battle with the federal government is another day and another dollar that won’t go towards securing government control over borders, or to designing and passing more idiotic power-trip police-state laws like SB 1070. The more bickering they do and the less security they’re able to inflict, the better it’ll be for all peaceful people making an honest living.

I hope this stupid lawsuit lasts forever.

Death by Homeland Security #3: The Disappeared

From Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too:

The hand-scrawled letter from a New Jersey jail was urgent. An immigration detainee had died that day, Sept. 9, 2005, a fellow inmate wrote in broken English, describing chest pains and pleas for medical attention that went unheeded until too late.

Death … need to be investigated, he urged a local group that corresponded with foreigners held for deportation at the jail, the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold. We care very much because that can happen to anyone of us.

Yet like a message in a bottle tossed from a distant shore, even the fact of the detainee’s death was soon swept away.

Inquiries by the local group were rebuffed by jail officials. Complaints forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security were logged, then forgotten. And when pressure from Congress and the news media compelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement to produce the first list of people who had died in their custody, the Freehold case was not on it.

The difficulty of confirming the very existence of the dead man, Ahmad Tanveer, 43, a Pakistani New Yorker, shows how death can fall between the cracks [sic! —R.G.] in immigration detention, the rapidly growing patchwork of more than 500 county jails, profit-making prisons and federal detention centers where half a million noncitizens were held during the last year while the government tried to deport them.

… Even now, most questions about Mr. Tanveer are unanswered, including just who he was and why he had been detained. The rescue of his death from oblivion took a rare mix of chance, vigilance by a few citizen activists, litigation by the civil liberties union and several months of inquiry by The Times. Even as the newspaper confirmed Mr. Tanveer’s death with jail officials, and tracked his body’s path from a Freehold morgue to the cargo hold of an airplane at Kennedy Airport, immigration authorities maintained that they could find no documents showing such a person was ever detained, or died in their custody.

Not until March 20, in response to a new request by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, did the agency release an internal e-mail message acknowledging that the death had been overlooked. It issued a corrected list that now includes him — his first and last names transposed — among 90 people who died in immigration custody between Oct. 7, 2003, and Feb. 7, 2009.

… In Mr. Tanveer’s case, efforts to draw public scrutiny were exceptional, yet went nowhere. The scrawled note by his fellow detainee, a Nigerian who garbled the dead man’s name as Ahmed Tender, reached citizen activists at the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee, who were unable to confirm it. Other complaints that Mr. Tanveer did not receive proper care separately reached a former member of the group, Jean Blum, a disabled Holocaust survivor who had continued corresponding with dozens of detainees from her home in Paterson, N.J., even though she could barely afford the postage.

I am very, very aware of the issues that involve displaced people, said Ms. Blum, 73, who was a child when she and her parents, Polish Jews, fled the Nazis. I could not turn my back, because that is my history.

Ms. Blum forwarded a packet of correspondence about the death to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general by Sept. 20, 2005, seeking an investigation. But within weeks, documents show, the matter was simply passed for internal inquiry to the immigration agency, which is part of Homeland Security, with the notation that it need not bother to report back its findings.

Years after Mr. Tanveer’s death, the scrawled note about his heart attack came to the attention of the A.C.L.U., and its lawyers noticed that no such name appeared on the first government list of 66 people published by The Times in 2008. The union added the name to its lawsuit, and eventually obtained the paper trail on what Ms. Blum had sent the government.

The union learned that the inspector general’s office had written up a synopsis of the allegations for investigation by the immigration agency, saying that Ahmad Tander, a Pakistani detainee housed at the Monmouth jail, had died from a heart attack whose symptoms were obvious, severe and ignored until it was too late, amid conditions of neglect and indifference to medical needs.

But when the A.C.L.U. pressed for more, government lawyers said no further records could be found.

Early this year, The Times called a spokeswoman for the Monmouth County Sheriff, who confirmed the death and gave the name as Tanver — later correcting the spelling to Tanveer.

In names transcribed from a foreign alphabet, such variations often pose a problem of identification. But the facts matched: Mr. Tanveer had arrived at the jail in immigration custody on Aug. 12, 2005, and on Sept. 9 was taken by ambulance to CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, where he died, the spokeswoman, Cynthia Scott, said. Under the jail’s federal contract, she said, nothing more could be disclosed.

A CentraState spokesman initially denied that such a patient had died at the hospital. Later the medical record was found misfiled, and the spokesman, James M. Goss, confirmed the man’s death at age 43. But, citing privacy laws and policy, he declined to answer other questions about the case, including what had happened to the body.

In New Jersey, as in many states, autopsy reports are private. But the county morgue confirmed that an autopsy had been performed. Eventually, two details were shared: the name of the Queens funeral home that picked up the body for burial on Sept. 12, and the fact that the autopsy report was sent two months later to Mark Stokes, an official in the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Yet for more than three years since, the tallies and testimony that the agency submitted to Congress about detainee deaths have not included the Tanveer case.

In January 2009, equipped with confirmation, The Times again requested documents in Mr. Tanveer’s death. President Obama had just directed federal agencies to err on the side of transparency in releasing records to the public. But a Freedom of Information officer soon said she was stymied: Immigration record-keepers told her no documents could be located without the dead man’s date of birth or eight-digit alien registration number.

And the body? The director of the funeral home, Coppola-Migliore in Corona, Queens, said Mr. Tanveer’s New York relatives had it flown to Pakistan for burial, using Pakistan International Airlines. But the funeral director declined to identify the relatives without their permission and said they had not returned phone calls. And the Pakistani Consulate had no record of the case.

Also futile was a search for witnesses among fellow detainees, many since deported. The Nigerian detainee who wrote the urgent letter, an ailing diabetic, was later released pending a deportation hearing. According to social workers at the Queens-based charity that was his last known contact, he is now a homeless fugitive, lost in the streets of New York.

Victoria L. Allred, chief of staff in the financial office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote in an internal e-mail message March 4 that the death had not been discovered until after the chart omitting it had been submitted to Congress for the latest subcommittee hearing, March 3. I apologize for the discrepancy, she wrote.

Yet as of Thursday, immigration authorities still have not released records on Mr. Tanveer’s detention or death, which they attribute to occlusive coronary atherosclerosis, nor have they addressed the complaint that his heart attack went untreated in the jail for more than two hours.

On the expanded list, he is the only detainee with no birth date. And in the e-mail message acknowledging the death, his alien registration number has been redacted — to protect his privacy, the government said.

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

Ahmad Tanveer was abducted, caged, deliberately denied medical care and left to die in jail, and then disappeared by the United States federal government’s bordercrats and their hired thugs, who have gone up and down the chain of command denying, declining, misfiling and deliberately blocking disclosure of information about the case at every turn. They haven’t done a damned thing to investigate this man’s murder and they’ve did their best for years to make sure that nobody ever found out much of anything about it. The Times deserves a great deal of credit for doggedly investigating, and ultimately exposing, what has been going on in la Migra’s special prison system. But there’s a deep problem with passing it off as a matter of some poor shmoe falling between the cracks of a patchwork system of government immigration jails — as if this were a matter of disorganization or bureaucratic inefficiency — rather than what it is, an act of administrative murder, followed by a campaign of repeated stonewalling and cover-ups, under the excuse of Homeland Security, or on the outrageous claim that they are doing it out of concern for the privacy of their own victim. Not just in this one case, but over, and over again, to God knows how many people:

We still do not know, and we cannot know, if there are other deaths that have never been disclosed by ICE, or that ICE itself knows nothing about, said Tom Jawetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been battling in court for months to obtain government records on all detention deaths, including the Freehold case and those named on the first government list, obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act and published last year.

We believe we have accounted for every single detainee death, Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said last week, adding that a death in March was promptly reported to Congress under a policy directive from Dora Schriro, the new administration’s special adviser on detention.

Yet even the latest list, which Ms. Nantel called comprehensive, thorough, is missing a known death from 2008: that of Ana Romero Rivera, a 44-year-old Salvadoran cleaning woman who was found hanged last August in an isolation cell in a county jail in Frankfort, Ky., where she was awaiting deportation. Federal officials now disagree whether she was legally in their custody when she died.

There are unverified reports that other detainees may have died unnamed and uncounted. At the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami, for example, directors cite a letter in late July 2007 from a detainee who described an 18-year-old Haitian woman, Mari Rosa, coughing up blood for hours without medical attention at the Glades County Jail in Moore Haven, Fla. The letter said she fell to the ground, had no pulse when she was finally taken to the medical unit and was never brought back, adding, The detainees think she is dead.

The center has been unable to confirm what happened to that woman, said Susana Barciela, its policy director.

… As Congress and the news media brought new scrutiny to the issue, several detention deaths have highlighted problems with medical care and accountability. In one, a Chinese computer engineer’s extensive cancer and fractured spine went undiagnosed at a Rhode Island jail until shortly before he died, despite his pleas for help. In another, records show a Guinean tailor who suffered a skull fracture in a New Jersey jail was left in isolation without treatment for more than 13 hours.

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

Representative Zoe Lofgren of the state of California, is shocked — shocked! — to find that such a thing would be going on in the government’s special immigration prisons:

How can you overlook a guy who died in your custody? asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who has presided over two subcommittee hearings dealing with care and deaths in detention, battling unsuccessfully for full disclosure from immigration officials. Did they forget other people? Was it an isolated, single error, or was it something more sinister?

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

But the answer to these questions are easy. This case — all these cases, and more — happened because of a single error. But not an isolated one. The system itself is the error — there is no possible way to enforce immigration controls without creating special, parallel systems of imprisonment and administrative courts in which basic civil liberties and basic principles of due process are eliminated. There is no possible way for the government to go around trying to detect and exile undocumented immigrants without reversing basic components of due process, like the presumption of innocence. Any system of immigration documentation necessarily places the burden on the documented person to prove to the government’s satisfaction, by producing their documentation, that they have a right to exist where they do — rather than putting the burden on the government to prove that they do not. (The government will no doubt object that they can’t prove a negative. Of course they can’t, which is why they can’t implement a system of border laws within the bounds of anything resembling due process. Which is an argument against border laws, not against due process.) Any system of border laws whatever will always produce special prisons and special courts for the administration of the federal Fugitive Alien Acts, in which those imprisoned and judged will be stripped of basic privileges or immunities, and denied any realistic hope of recourse for crimes committed against them.

When Anarchists speak about a society based on consent, and when we say that we can settle any genuine issue of socio-economic coordination and community life through consensual, grassroots processes of negotiation and free association or dissociation — without government armies, government borders, or government prisons — we are constantly accused, by some sanctimonious know-it-all who presumes that repeating statist chestnuts amounts to hard-nosed realism and some special expertise in history and in the problems of life, of being utopians, whose ideas have no hope of practical workability. But as a matter of fact, we Anarchists have nothing on those who imagine that there can be some right way to run statist institutions, with the right policies in place and with virtuous and competent people to administer them, that will somehow avoid the predictable results that have happened in every other government institution like it. It takes the most naive sort of utopianism, and the cruelest sort of killing negligence, to go on pretending, in the face of both logic and historical evidence, that there is some possible way for government to construct systems of special tribunals in which people are treated as legal non-persons, without bringing along what this sort of thing has always and everywhere produced — effectively unchecked power by the government over its prisoners, who are granted no rights and given no recourse, and, what always follows unchecked power, rampant brutality, negligence, lying, death, and disappearance. There is no way to do it, no way at all. You cannot enforce border laws without constructing a system like that, and you cannot construct a system like that without, eventually, to a greater or a lesser degree, repeating every brutality and every horror that has always come along with every system of legal black holes, special security courts, and concentration camps that the world has ever known.

See also:

Voyage of the S.S. St. Louis

Everything old is new again.

Please bear the following facts in mind.

If you and your family are trying to escape the Chinese government’s coercive population control policies — if, for example, you are a man, and your wife has been forced into an abortion by threats or violence from the government, and even if you, yourself, have been threatened with government-forced sterilization; or if you are a woman, and you have been forced into an abortion by the government, but you don’t want to be forced to live apart from your life partner — if, that is, either you or your life partner has been held down, under threat of violence, and had your reproductive organs cut into, against your will, by order of the State, and it’s perfectly likely to happen to you again if you go on living in China — well, then, I’m sorry, but that just isn’t a good enough reason for the United States government to consider you and your family Officially Persecuted by the Chinese government, and thus not enough for them to get out of your way and leave you alone to live your life peacefully within the borders that the U.S. government claims the right to fortify. They are especially unlikely to consider your persecution important enough to merit asylum if the Chinese government, as part of those same population control policies, refuses to write down a legal record of your marriage to the man or woman that you wed years ago and have lived with ever since. In fact a panel of comfortable American judges will sneer down at you, from their politico-moral high ground, that legal marriage reflects a sanctity and long-term commitment that other forms of cohabitation simply do not. Your actual, real-life marriage doesn’t count, because the government that is persecuting you won’t recognize it. Your suffering and the violation of your body, or your spouse’s body, by a violent government, don’t matter to this government, because it won’t count them as real persecution. So instead of leaving you alone, this government will roust you up out of your new home, and march you out at bayonet-point, and ship you out of the country, back to the tormentors in China who you risked everything to escape.

If you are a woman from the Republic of Guinea, and, when you were a child, you were held down and had your clitoris cut out with a knife, without anesthesia, and if, after being forced to suffer this painful and traumatizing mutilation of your body, you make a deliberate decision to get out of the country, perhaps because it hurt you, and perhaps because the effects still hurt you, and perhaps because you didn’t want it and now you just can’t stand to live in the place where it was done to you, and perhaps because you don’t want your daughters to be forced into the same thing — well, I’m sorry, but according to the United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Department of Justice [sic], that just isn’t a good enough reason to consider you Officially Persecuted in Guinea, and thus not enough reason for them to get out of your way and leave you alone to live your life peacefully within the borders that the U.S. government claims the right to fortify. Because, hey, you’re damaged goods now and you don’t have any clitorises left for them to cut out. Your suffering and the violation of your body, by certain violent members of your community, don’t matter to them, because it won’t count them as real persecution. So instead of leaving you alone, this government will roust you up out of your new home, and march you out at bayonet-point, and ship you out of the country, back to the tormentors in Guinea who you risked everything to escape.

If you and your family are from Iraq, and, because of the crushing poverty and the tremendous danger to your life and limb which you face — due to the United States government’s own war and bombing and occupation in Iraq; or due to threats from the government-backed and freelance ethnic-cleansing death squads, which have flourished under that occupation; or due to the crossfire in the endless battles between the United States government’s occupying forces and Iraqi insurgents — if, because of all that, you are one of the 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled the country in order to try to find a new home (either temporarily or permanently) where you can live your life free of fear and starvation and unspeakable daily violence, and now you find yourself stuck — like 2.4 million of your fellow Iraqis — in some hellhole refugee camp or urban ghetto in neighboring countries like Syria or Jordan, where conditions are awful, where you are surrounded by suffering, where you cannot legally work for pay and have little or nothing to do other than take hand-outs and fill out paperwork for UNHCR, while you watch your life savings drain away in the effort to keep yourself alive for a few more months while you wait, and wait, and wait, and if you don’t happen to be one of the 500 people per year who are eligible for Special Immigration Visas in return for collaborating with the U.S. government’s occupying forces in Iraq, and you don’t happen to be one of the quota of only a few thousand Iraqi refugees that the U.S. government has agreed to accept each year — well, then, I’m sorry, but according the United States government that just isn’t a good enough reason to get out of your way and leave you alone to travel to the United States and live your life peacefully within the borders that the United States government claims the right to fortify. Your suffering, and the danger to your life or the lives of your loved ones, by any one of the countless armies and armed factions rampaging through Iraq, don’t matter enough to them for them to reconsider their immigration quota policy. So this government will keep you penned up in your hellhole ghetto, where you can die for all they care, or, if you somehow get to America, this government will march you out at bayonet-point, and ship you out of the country, back to the ghetto conditions or to the tormentors in Iraq who you risked everything to escape.

This is life, such as it is, under government immigration controls. It is life as it always will be, as long as politicians and bureaucrats have the power to pick and choose whose reasons for wanting to cross an arbitrary line on a map are good enough, and whose are not.

But it is criminal that there is even one single refugee in this world who cannot immediately find asylum and a chance to make a new life and a new home for herself in a new country.

It is inexcusable that, in the name of the ethno-political system of international apartheid, the governments of the world continue to collaborate in violence against women, in forced starvation, and in ethnic cleansing, by forcing peaceful women and men into refugee ghettoes or, worse, by forcing peaceful women and men back into the maws of the very governments or violent factions who intend to devour them.

It is obscene that a bunch of politicians and unaccountable bureaucrats from the United Nations or the U.S. government would be invested with the power to sit in judgment, from their comfortable offices, on the most marginalized, the most exploited, and the most oppressed people in the world, so that they put all their conventional prejudices and political blinders to work in picking and choosing whose suffering should count as real, in the eyes of the governments of the world, or whose suffering, if acknowledged as real by the government, is important enough to let them into a tiny quota that the government will allow to cross an arbitrary line on a map.

The S.S. St. Louis still sails the seas today, a ghost ship with ghost passengers, without rest and without safe harbor. It will haunt the world forever, as long as this system of international apartheid is enforced.

And all for what? To avoid the voluntary co-mingling of people from different countries? To ensure that the people of the world hear only one language, live and work with people of only one nationality, remain segregated, either by penning them up in their government-appointed place or else by making sure you can monitor all their movements according to a government-created system of passbooks and minders? The idea would be laughable if not for all the ghosts—the ghosts of millions upon millions of real, living, irreplaceable and unique individual people, who were turned back, ruined, persecuted, mutilated, tortured, starved, and murdered for the sake of that idea.

There is another way. A way in which the living can finally live, and the dead can finally rest, in peace. But that other can only become a reality when people are free to move from one place to another, and their reasons, their suffering, and their lives cannot be measured and found wanting by entitled strangers with the power to turn them back and force them back to the tormenters that they risked everything to escape. It can, that is to say, only become a reality with the immediate, unconditional, and complete abolition of all government border controls, and with universal amnesty for all currently undocumented immigrants.

There’s no room for compromise or moderation in the politics of immigration when real people’s bodies and real people’s lives are hanging in the balance. As they are all over the world today.

See also:

Death by Homeland Security (#2)

(Via La Chola 2008-03-17.)

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 was elective 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 needed elective 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.

— Francisco Castaneda (2007-10-04), testifying before the House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on Detention and Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care

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 cruel is inadequate. 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.

Further reading: