Immigration officials deleted vital video of a transgender asylum seeker who died in custody

Transgender woman Roxsana Hernandez, who died while seeking asylum in the US from AIDS related illness.

The US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) deleted essential video footage of a transgender asylum seeker who died in custody from AIDS-related complications.

Roxsana Hernández died on 25 May – just a little more than two weeks after she requested asylum in the US – from multicentric Castleman disease as a result of AIDS.

The Transgender Law Center (TLC) and lawyer Andrew Free later filed a wrongful death claim, and said that video footage of the woman that would have been integral to the investigation has been deleted.

Internal emails released by ICE reveal that the video footage was deleted despite the fact that there her death was being investigated. The footage would have allowed lawyers to assess the condition of Hernández during her time in US custody.

When ICE staff looked for footage of transgender inmate they discovered that it had been deleted.

In the emails, a staff member asked for a CD containing video footage of Hernández, but was told that the content was “no longer available”. They were told that all recorded footage is held for 90 days, at which point it is automatically overwritten.

But the TLC has said that immigration officials should have expected that the footage would be required as part of a wrongful death claim as the family had asked for an independent autopsy as early as June 8 – just two weeks after her death.

HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand.

An internal report suggests that Hernández was not given antiretroviral drugs – medication prescribed to people with HIV – during her time in detention. Philip Farabaugh, deputy medical director of ICE Health Service Corps, said that tests must be carried out before drugs are prescribed to find out what treatment is best for the patient.

Roxsana Hernandez, transgender woman who died in US custody.

LGBTQ and migrant rights activists block intersection in Albuquerque, NM, in August 2018 to demand justice for Roxsana. Photo credit: Transgender Law Center.

“HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand,” he told Buzzfeed.

Roxsana Hernández’s death was ‘entirely preventable’.

Hernández’s wrongful death claim was filed in November of last year. At the time, lawyers said she died with 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,” Lynly Egyes, director of litigation for TLC said at the time.

“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.

An ICE spokesperson denied these claims, calling them “false”. A spokesperson also told media this week that they do not comment on pending cases – but added that the absence of comment “should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations”.