Trans Woman Dies In ICE Custody After Arriving With Migrant Caravan

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The transgender asylum seeker from Honduras had been sick and showing symptoms for a week. Advocates blame U.S. immigration officials for her death.

Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who emigrated to America, has just died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

She had contracted HIV after being sexually assaulted by a group of MS-13 gang members in Honduras.

Hernandez, 33, arrived in the U.S. on May 9. She had come to the country as part of the migrant caravan organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an immigrant advocacy group. At the San Ysidro port of entry, Hernandez asked for asylum, explaining she was discriminated against because of her gender. She told reporters that she suffered violence for being transgender, and because of that, she had been raped.

"Four [MS-13 gang members] raped me, and as a result, I got HIV," Hernandez said. "Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags."

But in the U.S., Pueblo Sin Fronteras said she still didn’t find the acceptance and freedom she sought.

At first, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) held her in cold cells known as “iceboxes.” These cells are named for how cold the temperature is kept at all times, an issue that has been named in several lawsuits in the past. Some allege that the facilities are not meant to house immigrants for more than a day or two and that the cold temperature is meant to make the environment comfortable for CBP officers who spend most of their days outside in the heat.

After that, agents reportedly failed to give her adequate medical care and food. She was then transferred to a transgender unit at the Cibola County Correctional Center on May 16, which is a federal prison facility used by ICE.

By then, Hernandez’s health may have been already failing as she was taken to Cibola General Hospital first and then later airlifted to Albuquerque's Lovelace Medical Center.

Prior to her death, she suffered from dehydration, pneumonia, and other complications linked to HIV. According to ICE, she was in intensive care until Friday, when she died of cardiac arrest.

In a statement, ICE said that it provides all detainees with adequate care.

"All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care," the agency said.

But Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Diversidad sin Fronteras, and Al Otro Lado, all immigrant advocacy groups, blame the agency for her death.

"Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities," a statement issued by the combined organizations read. "Why incarcerate and torture her like this? She had a home waiting for her in the United States. They could have let her go there. If they had, she would still be with us."

Irving Mondragón, the co-founder of Diversidad sin Fronteras, a group of LGBTQ migrant advocates, said that Hernandez is just another example of people being treated inhumanely at the border.

"Everybody's human rights are violated. From the moment they enter there are no guarantees," Mondragón explained. "People have said that she was safe because she made it to the US, that the hardest part was over. But it's not true — the U.S. is an imperial democracy and tyrannical. Asking for asylum can lead to death."

"I'll remember her as a timid, respectful person, always giving the other girls advice and sharing her food," the advocate added.

To Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement’s national organizer, Jennicet Gutiérrez, we need to do more for transgender women like Hernandez.

"Trans women continue to face violence inside and outside detention centers, and are oftentimes forced to do sex work as a means of survival," Gutiérrez said. "She was trying to find safety in the United States and sadly she’s no longer with us. We demand answers and justice for Roxana.”

In a country where the president uses children, families, and transgender immigrants as a justification for wasting more money on a needless wall, it’s clear that we can’t look at the federal government for a solution.

But pressing Congress to act on changing the current rules and forcing President Donald Trump’s hand on immigration might just work. Until then, we must honor people like Hernandez by sharing her story.

Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Reuters/Mike Blake 

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