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Rough Justice for Immigration Detention System's Victims

by Erin Hustings on April 11, 2011

Last week brought good news to the family of Francisco Castañeda, the former immigration detainee who died of cancer that detention health authorities failed to diagnose and treat.

Mr. Castañeda’s family’s lawsuit against the federal government was settled on April 7 for a total of $1.95 million in damages, which will help support Mr. Castañeda’s daughter and other survivors. The Los Angeles Times responded to the news, and stated that the settlement and other efforts are not yet enough.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers did the right thing by acknowledging their missteps in Mr. Castañeda’s case, and by changing the policy that led to his death: the requirement that a reviewing nurse, who had never seen the detainee, agree with the treating physician’s recommendation before authorizing additional testing and treatment.

ICE is still making it difficult, however, for detainees to win redress for their medical complaints before it is too late. As the Times notes, the Obama Administration has so far rebuffed calls to make immigration detention standards binding laws. If detention standards were written into law rather than existing solely in contracts for each detention center, expectations would be clear. More importantly, detainees would have options available for enforcing their basic human rights.

Admitting wrongdoing after the fact helps, but it cannot erase the irreparable harm done to Mr. Castañeda and his family. To best honor Mr. Castañeda’s memory, President Obama and DHS should commit to providing decent health care to those who cannot provide it for themselves. It is within the administration’s power to decide that the immigration detention network will be subject to meaningful, enforceable standards. Physicians for Human Rights enthusiastically joins the Times’ call to the relevant authorities to do everything necessary to prevent tragedies like Mr. Castañeda’s untimely death.


Places: United States

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