Family Can Sue Over Blocked Medical Care

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The family of a now-deceased illegal immigrant who said he was denied medical care for cancer can sue the federal government for damages, a federal judge ruled, calling the allegations "beyond cruel and unusual" punishment.

Francisco Castaneda, a Salvadoran immigrant, was denied a biopsy for a painful lesion for 11 months, despite the recommendation of several doctors, according to government records cited by a judge.

He was later diagnosed with penile cancer and died Feb. 26 at age 36.

Castaneda spent eight months in state prison after being convicted in 2005 of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He then was transferred to immigration custody because he was in the United States illegally.

Castaneda informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff at the San Diego Correctional Facility on March 27, 2006, that a "lesion on his penis was becoming painful and growing," U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson wrote in a decision released late Tuesday.

A physician assistant requested a biopsy and, over the next 11 months, several doctors made the same recommendation, according to government records cited by the judge.

But, Pregerson wrote, a doctor at the Division of Immigration Health services would not admit Castaneda to a hospital, saying her agency considered it "an elective outpatient procedure."

The American Civil Liberties Union took up the case in January 2007 and a doctor soon ordered a biopsy, saying Castaneda likely had cancer. But ICE decided to release him 11 days later.

Castaneda went to a hospital and was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, which treatments could not stop.

Four months prior to his death, Castaneda testified about his experience in Washington before a House subcommittee that was examining medical care at immigration detention centers.

"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," Castaneda told lawmakers.

An ICE spokeswoman said she could not comment on the case, but said the agency spent nearly $100 million in fiscal 2007 on medical, dental and psychiatric care for detainees.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman said the government might appeal.

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