LGBTQ Advocates File Wrongful Death Suit On Behalf of ICE Detainee Roxsana Hernandez

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LGBTQ advocates are taking legal action on behalf of a transgender asylum seeker whose death in ICE custody rocked the nation earlier this year.

The Transgender Law Center (TLC) and other groups have filed a wrongful death claim notice on behalf of Roxsana Hernandez’s next of kin, the group announced Monday.

The 33-year-old Honduran asylum-seeker died May 25 after just 12 days in ICE custody, sparking a massive protest by LGBTQ and immigration rights activists.

According to ICE, Hernández entered ICE custody May 13 in San Diego and was ultimately transferred to the transgender “pod” at Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico. Four days later, she was hospitalized with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and HIV complications. She died of cardiac arrest, according to ICE.

An independent autopsy found that Hernandez likely suffered physical abuse and severe dehydration, according to The Daily Beast. Forensic pathologist Kris Sperry reported that Hernandez had signs of blunt force trauma, with extensive hemorrhaging on her hands and wrists, likely from handcuffs and bruising on her hands and abdomen.  

“There she developed severe diarrhea and vomiting over the course of several days,” wrote forensic pathologist Kris Sperry, “and finally was emergently hospitalized, then transported to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she remained critically ill until her death.”

Hernandez’s journey parallels that of LGBTQ asylum-seekers currently trying to cross into the U.S. via Tijuana, Mexico at the San Ysidro port of entry. Hernandez also traveled with a caravan earlier this year before detainment.

Hernandez’s death reportedly sent shockwaves throughout the transgender pod at Cibola and prompted LGBTQ and human rights activists to demand the release of LGBTQ ICE detainees.

In California, gay Nigerian asylum-seeker Udoka Nweke was held for two years in detention at Adelanto ICE Processing Center while suicidal. Advocates have also demanded the release of Alejandra, a transgender asylum-seeker from El Salvador who fled attacks from a transnational criminal gang (her last name has been withheld for her safety).

The wrongful death tort claim notice in Hernandez’s case alleges a laundry list of abuse allegations against agencies charged with her custody, including assault, negligence, excessive force, failure to provide medical care, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It was filed last Monday in New Mexico by attorney Andrew Free, along with TLC and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

“We will continue to uplift Roxsana’s story and to continue to hold immigration enforcement accountable for her death,” said Jennicet Gutierrez, community organizer and advocate with Familia, in a statement. “We will continue to organize to protect the lives of all trans and queer migrants because what our community needs is asylum not detention.”

ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment. 

Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic, the contractor that operates Cibola, said that the company is committed to providing a safe environment for transgender detainees.

“All detention officers in CoreCivic’s ICE-contracted facilities are also required to complete 160 hours of pre-service training, as well as ongoing annual training, which includes the dynamics of sexual abuse and harassment and guidance on respectful interactions with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming detainees,” Gilchrist said in an email. “Training also includes specific emphasis on our zero-tolerance policy regarding abuse, sexual abuse and harassment.”

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