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LGBTQ Groups Call For ICE To Release All Trans Detainees After Trans Woman Dies In Custody

When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a death notice on Roxana Hernández, the agency was sure to list off her many transgressions. In 33 years, ICE says the transgender woman illegally entered the U.S. four times. She was convicted of theft, as well as “lewd, immoral, indecent conduct and prostitution” her notice reads.

The statement is less clear, however,on the agency’s role in her untimely death while in custody May 25.

How did a Honduran asylum-seeker die of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV? Will the LGBTQ community count her among this year’s transgender homicide victims?

"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 (TLC), in a blistering statement released jointly by the organization, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas.

The statement goes on to note that many detainees are kept in freezing holding cells.

According to ICE, Hernández entered ICE custody May 13 in San Diego. She was transferred to El Paso and then Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, where she was housed in the transgender unit.

On May 17, she was admitted to Cibola General Hospital with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and HIV complications. She died of cardiac arrest on May 25, according to ICE.

“Consistent with the agency’s protocols, the appropriate state health and local law enforcement agencies have been notified about this death, as have the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility,” said ICE in the statement.

The agency says Hernández is the sixth detainee in its charge to die this year.

A spokesperson for ICE did not respond to a request to comment beyond the statement released on its website.

LGBTQ advocates have excoriated ICE for what they say is a pattern of abuse against transgender detainees.

"We have been demanding the release of our trans communities detained in ICE detention centers because of rampant physical and brutal treatment from guards and other detainees,” said Jorge Gutiérrez, executive director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

Hernández’s story has a familiar ring for many.

Bamby Salcedo, President of [email protected] Coalition, noted the parallels between Hernández’s death and that of Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old trans woman from Mexico who similarly died in ICE custody in 2007 due to AIDS-related complications.

“People do not die from AIDS complications [nowadays],” Salcedo wrote on her Facebook page. “People die because of denial of treatment and the institutional red tape that has been set up for us to not be able to receive the help and support that we need in order to save our lives.”

Salcedo and others will hold a vigil in honor of Hernández Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The event description alleges that Hernández was “murdered by ICE detention.”

LGBTQ rights groups called for ICE to release all trans detainees and for the agency to be dismantled altogether.

“ICE has shown time and again it is incapable of protecting transgender women in detention, said Flor Bermudez, legal director at TLC. “Transgender people should not be detained by ICE at all.”


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a an award-winning trans reporter and former associate editor of Chicago's Windy City Times.

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