HRC Demands Records In Death of Trans Woman in ICE Detention

The Human Rights Campaign wants answers on why a transgender woman detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) died in May after suffering pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV.

HRC has hit ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with Freedom of Information Act requests related to the death and detainment of Roxana Hernandez, a 33-year-old Honduran asylum-seeker who died at Cibola County Correctional Facility.

“The death of Roxana Hernandez while in the custody of ICE is a tragedy and raises questions that need to be answered,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement. “It is unclear what medical care was made available to her when she entered the United States and what role the conditions of her initial detention while in CBP custody played in the worsening of her illness. LGBTQ people, particularly those in the transgender community, are especially vulnerable to violence and discrimination.”

Eight people have died in ICE custody this year, according to officials.

Hernandez’s death has sparked widespread demands that the agency release all LGBTQ detainees, as advocacy organizations across the country report on the dire circumstances facing queer detainees. Hernandez reportedly fled Honduras to escape discrimination and violence she faced as a trans person.

In California, advocacy organizations are lobbying for the release of gay Nigerian asylum-seeker Udoka Nweke, who escaped a homophobic mob in his own country and experiences mental illness. Nweke told INTO he has tried to kill himself twice while incarcerated at Adelanto ICE Processing Center since late 2016.

According to ICE officials, the agency had detained approximately 70 transgender people in nearly 20 facilities as of January 1 of this year. A number of those detainees are housed at Cibola in Milan, New Mexico, home to ICE’s only transgender facility.

According to Amnesty International, Hernandez’s death sent shockwaves through Cibola’s transgender unit.

Hernandez died of cardiac arrest on May 25, according to ICE statements.

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety or even life,” said Isa Noyola, deputy director at Transgender Law Center, in a statement, which goes on to note that many detainees are kept in freezing holding cells.

Amnesty has demanded the release of another trans woman in the unit that the organization claims is not receiving proper medical medical care. Alejandra, whose last name was withheld because she is a target of a transnational criminal gang, is one of six trans women at Cibola suffering from inadequate healthcare, according to Amnesty.  

In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report showing a pattern of abuse against trans ICE detainees. The 28 women interviewed reported invasive strip searches, sexual assault, frequent lockdowns in solitary confinement and grossly inadequate medical and mental health services.


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a trans news and features reporter and former associate editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times.

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