Trans Woman Who Died in ICE Custody Highlights Ongoing Abuse of LGBT Inmates
Roxsana Hernández had gone through all the legal channels to claim asylum in America, but died while in ICE Custody just a month after arriving.
The official autopsy on record declared that Hernández died of HIV related complications and classified her passing as a “manner of death as natural.”
A second independent autopsy was then demanded by the family which provided some alarming insight into the days leading up to her death and simultaneously revealed other contributing factors suggesting it as likely a premature and unnecessary loss of life. Hernández had deep tissue contusions which were consistent with blunt object impacts such as injuries from a baton or an asp that occurred while she was handcuffed according to the report obtained by the Transgender Law Center. She was also severely dehydrated.
Although Ms. Hernández required specific medical needs, she was repeatedly denied access to medical attention as her health rapidly declined due to the frigid temperatures and inhumane conditions within her facility.
When petitioned by Attorneys enlisted by her family, Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were asked to provide video surveillance footage of Hernández during her tumultuous stay, including those containing interactions she had with ICE agents while incarcerated at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a for-profit correctional facility in Milan, New Mexico and the only transgender ICE unit.
Authorities claimed they had deleted the footage and that no video record of her stay within the facility exists. A representative from ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility explained; “…the requested video is no longer available. The footage is held in memory up to around 90 days. They attempted to locate and was negative.”
The Transgender Law Center has brought a Wrongful Death lawsuit against the Agency. Lynly Egyes, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, asserts that the footage should’ve been saved since CoreCivic, the private owner of the prison facility, should’ve anticipated pending litigation because of the independent autopsy requested by the family of Hernández reports New York Daily News.
“When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence,” Egyes told BuzzFeed News.
In July, 29 transgender detainees at Cibola County Correctional Center wrote an urgent three page letter to Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based advocacy group alleging the medical staff have failed to provide proper healthcare, including prescription medication to people with disabilities including HIV. They have been denied treatment for visible skin infections — some of which they claim had been contracted within the facility. Moreover, the trans inmates describe frequent verbal and psychological abuse imposed by ICE agents, and, again, a fear of retaliation in the face of complaints- A running theme from LGBT migrants, even those held in different facilities.
In the past three years, numerous complaints have been lodged against ICE authorities by LGBT detainees alleging ongoing abuse, neglect and inhumane conditions. According to one gay asylum seeker, “When I complained, I was thrown into solitary confinement for five days.”
After visiting twelve gay men and transgender women detained at at Otero County Processing Center, ACLU Mexico in coordination with Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy center dispatched a formal letter detailing the nightmarish conditions experienced by LGBT inmates, including sexual harassment, physical abuse, inadequate medical care and retaliatory and unlawful use of solitary confinement.
Others who complained were allegedly reassigned to barracks with heterosexual men where they would be subject to potential violence as another form of retaliation by Agents, according to the letter.
LGBT folks in ICE custody are clearly in danger, especially those who identify as transgender. The untimely death of Roxsana Hernández only punctuates that fact.