Transgender Refugee Dies in Federal Custody

Roxsana Hernández was held in an "icebox" cell despite suffering from pneumonia, dehydration, and complications from HIV.

A transgender woman seeking asylum in the United States has died while in federal custody.

Roxsana Hernández, 33, arrived in the United States as part of a caravan of Central American migrants and died on Friday, from what appears to be cardiac arrest, while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

She was hospitalized at Cibola General Hospital, in Grants, New Mexico, then airlifted to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque where she died, ICE said in a statement. It both deadnames her and outlines previous offenses, including two other times she entered the United States illegally.

The statement also lists her as the “sixth detainee to pass away in ICE custody in fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1, 2017.”

Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group that organized the caravan, said Hernández was first detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and placed in one of the holding cells known as “iceboxes,” or “hieleras” in Spanish, because of how cold they are kept.

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The group also reported the lights in the cells were kept on 24 hours a day, and that she was not given adequate food and medical care.

A week earlier, Hernández had been taken to a different hospital, suffering with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV. She told BuzzFeed last month she contracted it as the result of a gang rape by members of MS-13.

She said she was driven from her home by continual threats.

“I didn’t want to come to Mexico—I wanted to stay in Honduras but I couldn’t,” she said. “They kill trans people in Honduras. I’m scared of that.”

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life,” said Isa Noyola, Deputy Director at Transgender Law Center, in a joint statement with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia:TQLM) and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT).

immigrants Honduran flag border crossing
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“ICE has shown time and again it is incapable of protecting transgender women in detention. Transgender people should not be detained by ICE, at all,” said Flor Bermudez, Legal Director at Transgender Law Center.

“At a time when we are grieving the murders of transgender women of color, and the murder of 20 year-old Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzalez by Border Patrol at the Texas-Mexico border, it is unconscionable that a transgender woman would die in the hands of ICE at the Cibola trans pod in immigration detention. The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis,” added Anandrea Molina, President of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas.

ICE protest
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“Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities,” said a group of immigrant advocacy organizations—including Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Diversidad sin Fronteras, and Al Otro Lado —in another joint statement. “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.”

Jennicet Gutiérrez, national organizer for Familia:TQLM, objected to ICE including her criminal record in the statement announcing her death.

“They are responsible for her death. 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 told BuzzFeed. “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.”

Journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose work has appeared in The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing, and more.