Trans woman immigrant who died in ICE custody was abused, family says
According to CNN, the family of a Honduran woman who fled her home country to seek asylum in the United States says she was physically abused while in the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) before she died. Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez entered ICE custody on May 13th after crossing the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego, according to ICE records. Shortly afterward, Rodriguez was transferred to the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, an ICE facility. On May 25th, Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, and her official cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest.
However, Rodriguez’s family arranged for a private, independent autopsy which was provided by the Transgender Law Center (TLC), and that autopsy revealed that she probably died from “severe complications of dehydration” as well as an HIV infection. The report also found bruises consistent with tight shackling on her wrists and beatings across her back and abdomen. Lynly Egyes, director of litigation for the TLC, indicated that ICE was responsible for Rodriguez’s death in a statement released on Monday:
“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. Her cause of death was dehydration and complications related to HIV. Her death was entirely preventable.”
Of course, ICE is denying their fault in Rodriguez’s death, saying in a statement released on Monday, “allegations that she was abused in ICE custody are false… A review of Rodriguez’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.”
CoreCivic, which manages the Cibolo facility where Rodriguez was housed before she was transferred to a hospital, also released a statement from Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs, which reads: “We take the health and well-being of those entrusted to our care very seriously. Whenever there is a death in custody, CoreCivic immediately notifies our government partners and all appropriate authorities with oversight responsibility. We cooperate fully with those investigations.”
Rodriguez had made the trip into the southern border of the United States in order to flee “violence, hate, stigma, and vulnerability,” according to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group which organized the Central American asylum seekers’ march which has captivated the attention of American news media for the better part of the last month. Rodriguez was one of roughly 25 trans and gender non conforming individuals who made the difficult journey from Central America into the southern border shared with Mexico.
This marked Rodriguez’s fourth known attempt to get into the country, as her most recent attempt in 2014 ended in her deportation back to Honduras.
Lawyers for the TLC say that Rodriguez’s condition began to rapidly decline once she was in ICE custody in San Diego. They claim that her time in the notoriously cold holding areas known as “hieleras” or “coolers” helped make her sick, and then that she was denied the healthcare she requested after bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. In a written notice, her lawyers claim that she was continually abused.
On May 17th, Rodriguez was admitted to Cibola General Hospital with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications with HIV. According to ICE, later that day, she was transferred to Lovelace Medical Center, where she was placed in the Intensive Care Unit but was pronounced dead by the staff on May 25th. After reports broke on Monday, ICE released a statement: “ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care… Any death that happens in ICE custody is a cause for concern, and the agency will continue its full review of this case according to standard protocols.”