The Transgender Law Center (TLC) is taking legal action after a transgender woman who died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was found to have suffered physical abuse during the time leading up to her death in May.
Roxsana Hernández, 33, an immigrant from Honduras, was seeking asylum in the US when she was placed in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection — and never made it out alive. Her autopsy, conducted by independent experts, showed she was shackled tightly for long periods of time, causing bruises on her wrists.
Lynly Egyes, director of litigation for TLC, an Oakland, California-based advocacy group, said in a written statement that the independent forensic pathologist noted that Hernández also suffered bruising consistent with abuse by a baton.
“If she was lucky, she was given a bottle of water to drink,” Egyes said. “Her cause of death was dehydration and complications related to HIV. Her death was entirely preventable.”
Hernández did not receive necessary medical treatment, according to a wrongful death claim filed by TLC in conjunction with immigration and civil rights attorney Andrew Free, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project—BLMP, and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia).
Hernández was moved from California to Washington State and finally to New Mexico, where she was held at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a private federal prison for men which operates under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She was hospitalized after suffering diarrhea and vomiting, and her condition deteriorated until she was transferred to Lovelace Medical Center, where she died in the intensive care unit.
ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett said any allegations that Hernández was abused are ”false” and claimed that Hernández’s cause of death was cardiac arrest.
“A review of Hernández’s death conducted by ICE Health Service Corps medical professionals confirmed that she suffered from a history of untreated HIV,” Bennett sad in a written statement. “At no time did the medical personnel treating Ms. Hernández at Cibola General Hospital or Lovelace Medical Center raise any issues of suspected physical abuse.”
Free said his team has asked for records from federal agencies to shed light on the conditions under which Hernández was kept during her time in custody. If the records are not turned over, he said, they will be filing an additional lawsuit.
Hernández had dreams of opening a beauty salon, according to a written statement by her sisters.
“They cut her life short and she was not able to pursue her dreams,” they said. “It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal. It’s not fair.”
Hernández’s death is the latest in a disturbing year of fatal violence against transgender people. A report by Human Rights Campaign earlier this month indicated that 22 transgender people had been killed up to that point in 2018 — and 82 percent of those people were transgender people of color. Like Hernández, 64 percent of the people who had died up to that point were under the age of 35.
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