ICE Deleted Footage of Roxsana Hernández Before She Died in Custody

The agency destroyed evidence of the trans woman's wrongful death, says the Transgender Law Center.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is facing new allegations in the suspicious death of a transgender asylum-seeker whose passing while in federal custody has shocked the nation.

On Wednesday, Buzzfeed News reported that the agency had deleted footage of the last days of Roxsana Hernández’s life at Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico.

Hernández’s death has been deeply scrutinized by activists after an autopsy commissioned by the Transgender Law Center (TLC) suggested she was beaten in custody. ICE officials report she was hospitalized after suffering pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with untreated HIV.

TLC and attorney R. Andrew Free, who represent Hernández’s family in a wrongful death claim, say ICE and prison contractor CoreCivic were required to keep the footage when they became aware it might be needed for a potential lawsuit.

“How can ICE and CoreCivic claim any kind of transparency when they withheld video footage during an active investigation?” Free asked in a media statement. “They were on notice to preserve any and all video surveillance and it seems they may have failed to do so.”

ICE media relations declined to comment in a statement released to NewNowNext.

“That said, absence of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations,” the agency added.

The deletion is the latest scandal to plague ICE in its treatment of transgender asylum-seekers. Hernández, 33, died after 16 days in custody last May. While a bombshell independent autopsy found she suffered physical abuse in detention, ICE and the New Mexico Medical Examiner did not release her official autopsy until 11 months after her death.

That report stated that the Honduran migrant died of an AIDS-related illness, and that her injuries were the result of CPR to resuscitate her.

Meanwhile, new documents released by TLC on Wednesday track Hernández’s last days. She had traveled with a migrant caravan from Honduras and requested asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on May 9, records state, noting she had lost 40 pounds over the course of the previous month from “[recurrent] vomiting and diarrhea.”

On May 11, at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, she was not cleared for detention, and then was cleared in the same day. She was not given HIV medication.

“Any person with common sense who encountered Roxsana while she was in custody could see that she was visibly ill,” said Lynly Egyes, TLC’s legal director, in a statement. “It does not take a medical degree to understand that a person who was experiencing extreme weight loss, a bad cough, and intermittent fevers should not be put in a cage.”

Records indicate that by May 17, Hernández—still in ICE custody at Cibola—was 5’3” and weighed just 89 pounds.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Philip Farabaugh, deputy medical director for ICE Health Service Corps, said in a statement that the agency does not immediately issue HIV treatment regimens without evaluating patients, and that Hernández had been in transit during her brief time in custody:

HIV medication selection is an involved process, especially for patients who have started and stopped HIV treatment over time as drug resistance can develop. HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand. If there were to be side effects or a change in medical status, it would be uncertain whether that was due to the new medication or another disease process.

In June, ICE faced new allegations of misconduct when 25-year-old trans woman Johana Medina Leon died on the same day she was paroled from ICE custody. A month later, LGBTQ advocacy organization Trans Queer Pueblo released a letter from 29 transgender women detained at Cibola, home to ICE’s only transgender pod, calling for an investigation into the facility.

“Several of us are also not receiving needed medications,” they wrote. “Some officials mistreat us daily, verbally, and psychologically assaulting us.”

The letter claims that ICE is denying detainees HIV medication, and that the women were pushed to sign documents they did not understand and pose for pictures that falsified their realities. Those pictures were suspected to be images used for an article that ran in The Washington Blade.

Cibola can house up to 60 transgender women. As of July, ICE was detaining 135 self-identified transgender people across 32 of its detention centers, according to officials.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.
@shoeleatherkate