Trans woman ‘beaten’ in ICE custody before her death

A poster demanding justice in the death of Honduran transgender woman Roxana Hernandez, who died of pneumonia, dehydration and "complications associated with HIV," while in ICE custody.

A trans woman who died while in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was beaten before her death, an independent autopsy report indicates.

Honduran citizen Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez was 33 years old when she died on May 25 in a hospital in New Mexico, having been admitted the previous week due to “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV,” according to an ICE statement announcing her passing.

Lawyers from the Transgender Law Center (TLC)  believe that to be accurate, but the autopsy revealed additional injuries consistent with physical abuse.

“An independent autopsy report reveals that Roxsana was shackled for a long time and very tightly, enough to cause deep bruising on her wrists,” said Lynly Egyes, TLC’s director of litigation, in a statement released on Monday (November 26).

LGBT Hondurans like Roxsana Hernandez, the trans woman who died in ICE custody, march on the International Day against Homophobia.

Members of the Arcoiris (Rainbow) Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Bisexual (LGTB) Association, demonstrate on the International Day against Homophobia in the streets of Tegucigalpa, on May 17, 2010. (Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty)

“She also had deep bruising Injuries consistent with physical abuse with a baton or asp while she was handcuffed, according to an examination of the tissue by an independent expert board-certified forensic pathologist. In the final days of her life, she was transferred from California to Washington to New Mexico, shackled for days on end. If she was lucky, she was given a bottle of water to drink,” Egyes continued.

“Her cause of death was dehydration and complications related to HIV. Her death was entirely preventable,” she concluded.

Border agency denies allegations of physical abuse

An ICE spokesperson denied the report’s findings in a statement to the Daily Beast. “Allegations that she was abused in ICE custody are false,” said Danielle Bennett.

“A review of Hernandez’s death conducted by ICE Health Service Corps medical professionals confirmed that she suffered from a history of untreated HIV. 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.”

Hernandez was one of hundreds of asylum seekers who travelled through Central America for weeks this spring as part of a so-called migrant caravan.

“They kill trans people in Honduras. I’m scared of that.”

— Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez

She claimed asylum after crossing California’s San Ysidro Port of Entry on May 9. But Hernandez was known to the US authorities for entering the country three times without appropriate documents, in 2005, 2009 and 2014. She also had criminal convictions for theft, lewd acts and prostitution, so she was “processed as an expedite removal” and was taken into ICE custody on May 13, according to the agency.

In an interview to BuzzFeed News in April, Hernandez explained she did not want to leave Honduras, but had to do so to have a chance of survival after facing discrimination and violence due to her gender identity.

She said she contracted HIV, after being gang-raped four months before embarking on her journey, by four members of the criminal organisation MS-13, who attacked her on her way home.

“They kill trans people in Honduras. I’m scared of that,” she said. Honduras is among the world’s most violent countries.

The sixth death in ICE custody in seven months

Hernandez was the sixth person to die in ICE custody in the seven months between October 2017 and May 2018, according to the agency.

Demonstration in solidarity with asylum seekers like Roxsana Hernandez, who died while in ICE custody.

Protesters march along the United States-Mexico border during a rally to show solidarity with the migrant caravan on November 25, 2018. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty)

The TLC and Andrew Free, an attorney representing Hernandez’s family, plan legal action against the authorities, citing “battery, assault, negligence, failure to protect, excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress, deliberate indifference, wrongful death, and failure to provide proper medical/mental health care” as possible claims.

Hernandez’s sisters called for justice in a statement to the TLC: “It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal.

“It’s not fair. It’s not fair that she fled Honduras looking for a better life and instead she was murdered. Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her. Justice for Roxsana.”