ICE Accused of ‘Whitewashing’ Trans Woman’s Death in its Public Report

Last year, when 32-year-old Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba died in ICE custody, the agency published a 23-page report.

On Wednesday, ICE published its report on the death of transgender asylum seeker Roxsana Hernandez. It’s two pages long.

The report comes 208 days after she died from complications related to pneumonia, dehydration, and HIV after being detained at Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico. The report was due within 30 days of Hernandez’s death, per rules set by Congress. It was to be finalized 60 days later.

Grace Meng, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the abbreviated report is far out of line with the agency’s history of reporting deaths and with Congressional requirements.

“What we’re seeing here, between the old investigations and what is being filed now, is such a stark change,” Meng told INTO.

Hernandez’s report arrives alongside that of five others who died in detention this year. Those reviews range in length between a page-and-a-half and four pages. Past death reviews, publicly available on the ICE FOIA library, have been between 12-40 pages, and include detailed looks at the events surrounding detainee deaths and information gleaned from interviews with ICE staff.

More than half of Hernandez’s autopsy is comprised of a summary of her immigration and criminal history. The second page provides a bulleted timeline of her decline, but lacks the in-depth narratives that might shed light on responsibility for her death. It also deadnames and misgenders her.

In the report regarding Gonzalez-Gadba’s 2017 death, for example, the review offers a day-by-day and in some cases hourly analysis of the events that transpired leading up to his death. The “narrative” recounting those events is over 15 pages.

Meng said HRW has analyzed every ICE death since 2010 and never seen a batch of reports so truncated.

“I can’t help but think that these kinds of reports make it impossible to do the kinds of analyses we at Human Rights Watch and our partner organizations have done in the past,” Meng said. “It’s to basically hide even more information from all of us who insist that, as a government agency, ICE is obligated to account for how it spends taxpayer money.”

The report notes that Hernandez was taken into custody by Customs and Border Protection on May 9, but did not have medical intake until May 17, at which point she was found to be suffering from dehydration, starvation, and untreated HIV. She died on May 25.

Andrew Free, an immigration attorney who represents Hernandez’s family in a wrongful death suit against ICE, accused the agency of white-washing her death and those of his other clients this year.

“It is painfully obvious from ICE’s summary of Mr. Francisco’s pre-death detention that the agency either hasn’t looked at the medical records examined during the local autopsy or has decided to deliberately exclude them from its report,” Free said in a statement. “This is shameful.”

The report concludes by noting that her official autopsy, conducted on June 4, remains pending several months later. An independent autopsy commissioned by Free and the Transgender Law Center concluded that Hernandez was likely beaten in custody.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI), which conducted Hernandez’s official autopsy, has declined to turn over its report. The OMI has not met records requests from INTO, instead stating that “Ms. Hernandez had complex medical conditions that necessitate extra analyses including specialty consultation.”

ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett countered the agency was fulfilling its obligation by releasing the report. 

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is fulfilling the Congressional mandate described in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (2018) which requires ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) to make public reports regarding an in-custody death within 90 days by posting those reports online, beginning with March 2018, when the requirement was made,” Bennett wrote in an email to INTO. 

ICE has also strongly refuted accusations that Hernandez was abused in custody or that its action led to her untimely death.

“A review of Hernandez’s death conducted by ICE Health Service Corps medical professionals confirmed that she suffered from a history of untreated HIV,” the agency previously wrote in a statement to INTO.  “At no time did the medical personnel treating Ms. Hernandez at Cibola General Hospital or Lovelace Medical Center raise any issues of suspected physical abuse.”

Image via Getty

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