Metro Weekly

LGBTQ groups demand investigation into transgender immigrant’s death in ICE custody

Roxsana Hernandez died from complications related to pneumonia and HIV after going days without medical care

Roxsana Hernandez – Photo: Annie Rose Ramos, via Twitter.

National LGBTQ groups are calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fully and thoroughly investigate the death of Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died while in the custody of ICE.

Hernandez, 33, who was part of a migrant caravan that came to the United States fleeing violence in Central America, had recently petitioned for asylum after reaching the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego on May 9.

However, due to three past attempts to illegally enter the United States — and related convictions stemming from those attempts, she was placed on a list for “expedited removal” without the opportunity to plead her case before an immigration judge.

Additionally, advocates say, the Trump-Pence administration limited the daily number of migrants who were allowed to present themselves to immigration officials, thereby creating a backlog of asylum claims. 

In a statement released by ICE — which, notably, referred to Hernandez using her assigned name at birth — Hernandez was held in detention for five days before being transferred to the custody of ICE on May 13. Two days later, she was transferred from San Diego to El Paso, and then, on May 16, to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., where she was housed in the transgender unit.

Authorities later realized that Hernandez’s health had begun to fail and she was admitted to Cibola General Hospital on May 17 with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV. Later that day, she was airlifted to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, where she died on May 25 of cardiac arrest, which stemmed from her struggle with pneumonia and advanced HIV.

Hernandez is the sixth detainee to pass away in ICE custody since Oct. 1, 2017.

LGBTQ and immigration advocates say it is still unclear where Hernandez was housed and in whose custody she was left for the five days prior to being transferred into ICE custody. The immigrants rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras believes Hernandez did not receive adequate medical care from either U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or from ICE.

It has been repeatedly reported by immigrants that asylum seekers at the border are often held in hieleras, or holding cells kept at freezing temperatures. Some believe that such conditions may have contributed to Hernandez contracting pneumonia.

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernandez sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life,” Isa Noyla, the deputy director at Transgender Law Center, said in a statement.

In the past, immigration authorities have been accused of failing to protect transgender immigrants or asylum seekers from physical or sexual abuse at the hands of other detainees. They have also been accused of turning a blind eye to the threats, harassment, and physical and sexual abuse that LGBTQ asylum seekers, particularly transgender women, experience in their native countries because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“At a time when we are grieving the murders of transgender women of color, and the murder of 20 year-old Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzalez by Border Patrol at the Texas-Mexico border, it is unconscionable that a transgender woman would die in the hands of ICE at the Cibola trans pod in immigration detention,” Anandrea Molina, the president of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, said in a statement.”The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis.”

The immigration rights groups, and Transgender Law Center, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement have issued three demands to ensure no one else is killed in custody.

First, the advocates demand that ICE adopt and immediately implement a policy against detaining transgender people. They also say that immigrants should not be held in “deplorable and inhumane detention conditions” while in custody. 

The advocates also demand that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security exercise discretion and parole all LGBTQ undocumented immigrants and those with life-threatening medical conditions. Finally, they call for the defunding and complete dismantling of both ICE and Customs and Border Protection.

The Human Rights Campaign added its own call for an in-depth investigation into Hernandez’s death.

“LGBTQ migrants, especially transgender women, face higher rates of abuse in immigration detention facilities,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Hernandez’s death raises serious questions regarding the treatment she received while in ICE custody, and we expect ICE to provide answers to those questions.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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