Top Lawmakers Demand Answers in Roxsana Hernandez’s Death

Top lawmakers are demanding answers in the death of transgender ICE detainee Roxsana Hernandez after the agency refused to release a legally-mandated report on her death.

Senators Kamala Harris, Tom Udall, and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Bennie Thompson fired off letters to ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello last week expressing grave concern about the circumstances surrounding Hernandez’s death in May. Hernandez, who traveled with a migrant caravan from Honduras, experienced symptoms of dehydration, pneumonia, and complications associated with HIV.

Harris, Udall, and Heinrich excoriated the agency for failing to release a Congressionally-mandated report on Hernandez’s death. ICE is required to publish a review on in-custody deaths within 30 days and finalize that report within 60 days. As of Monday, 199 days have elapsed.

“ICE’s failure to release this report diminishes the systemic, traumatic, and in this case fatal, violence that transgender individuals experience daily as a result of their gender identity,” the Senators wrote.

ICE declined to provide a response to the letters, deferring to its past denials that Hernandez suffered abuse before her 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 wrote in a statement released 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.”

ICE has falsely claimed that its press release announcing Hernandez’s death in May constitutes its Congressionally-mandated report. The agency declined to clarify how, if the release is its report, it then met the 60-day deadline to finalize its report.

Last month, The Daily Beast broke the news that Hernandez was likely severely beaten while in custody, according to an autopsy commissioned by the Transgender Law Center and immigration Attorney R. Andrew Free, which are suing for wrongful death.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI), which conducted Hernandez’s official autopsy, also has not released its report. In response a Freedom of Information Act Request from INTO, the OMI said it would need 12 weeks from Hernandez’s death to complete its report (it has been more than 27 weeks since Hernandez died).

“Our investigation into the death of Roxsana Hernandez continues,” wrote OMI Public Information Officer Alex Sanchez. “Ms. Hernandez had complex medical conditions that necessitate extra analyses including specialty consultation. As always, we are focused on our mission of properly investigating deaths to serve the living. We appreciate the public’s understanding that this investigation must not be rushed to ensure full closure and as many answers as we can provide.”

Rep. Thompson also wants answers. In a letter to Vitiello, he noted that Hernandez is among 11 deaths at ICE detention centers this year.

“These detainee deaths and detention standard violations raise serious questions about the treatment of individuals in ICE custody, particularly especially vulnerable individuals and, more broadly, about your agency’s oversight of contract detention facilities,” Thompson wrote.

Header image via Transgender Law Center


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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