Roxsana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transgender Honduran woman who was part of the Central American migrant caravan in late April, died of pneumonia complications at a hospital in New Mexico on May 25 while in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Hernandez fled Honduras due to the violence and discrimination she received for being transgender.
“Four of them raped me and as a result I got HIV,” Hernandez told BuzzFeed News in an interview shortly after her arrival in the United States. “Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags.”
“I didn’t want to come to Mexico; I wanted to stay in Honduras but I couldn’t.”
Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group that organized the caravan, claim Hernandez died due to the horrific conditions of her detainment. When she reached the United States, Hernandez was placed by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into holding cells colloquially known as “iceboxes” because of their frigid temperature. Hernandez also lacked adequate food and medical care and was held in a cell where the lights were turned on 24 hours a day. Nine days before her death, she was transferred to the transgender unit at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a federal prison facility that contracts with ICE.
She only lasted one day there before she was admitted to Cibola General Hospital and later transferred via air ambulance to Albuquerque’s Lovelace Medical Center, where she remained in the intensive care unit until she died. ICE maintains her primary cause of death was cardiac arrest.
How a 33-year-old managed to die from cardiac arrest and pneumonia, however, has everything to do with how ICE treats, or rather fails to treat, its detainees — particularly LGBTQ detainees.
In a May 30 letter addressed to Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), along with 35 of her Democratic colleagues, asked the agency to answer for their treatment of LGBTQ detainees. The letter claims LGBTQ individuals only make up about .13% of ICE’s detained population in Fiscal Year 2017, yet accounted for 12% of victims in reports of sexual assault. Additionally, four of the DHS detainment centers housed transgender women in all-male facilities.
A 2017 Human Rights Watch report called, “Systemic Indifference: Dangerous & Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention,” revealed systemic medical treatment failures in United States immigration detention centers, which will only accelerate under the Trump administration’s ramped-up deportation and detention plans.
“The data reveals that people in immigration detention died needlessly under the Obama administration, even with its attempts at reform,” said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch, in the report. “The Trump administration has already announced its intent to roll back key reforms while detaining even more immigrants, which would likely mean more people will die needless and preventable deaths.”
News of Hernandez’s death comes just days after a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman named Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez was shot in the head by a Customs Border Police (CBP) agent in Rio Bravo, Texas along the border with Mexico. In a statement released shortly after the news of her death said that a border patrol agent was responding to “a report of illegal activity in Rio Bravo.”
“Initial reports indicate that as the agent attempted to apprehend the group, he came under attack by multiple subjects using blunt objects,” the statement read.
Two days later CBP changed their story, releasing an updated statement, saying the agent was “allegedly assaulted,” but did not mention the use of “blunt objects.”