Transgender Woman Dies in ICE Custody

By Alfonso Serrano May 31, 2018

A Honduran transgender woman who arrived in the United States earlier this month via the Central American migrant caravan died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), sparking outcry from advocates who have called on the federal agency to release all transgender detainees.

Roxana Hernández, 33, died last Friday (May 25) at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to ICE officials. She was taken to another city hospital earlier this month with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications from HIV. Per a statement from the agency, her preliminary cause of death was cardiac arrest.

"Consistent with the agency’s protocols, the appropriate state health and local law enforcement agencies have been notified about this death," ICE said in the statement. "Additionally, ICE has notified the Consulate of Honduras in Houston of Hernandez’s death, and Honduran consular officials will attempt to notify her next of kin."

According to ICE, Hernández is the sixth detainee of undocumented status to die in the agency’s custody in fiscal year 2018.

In the wake of Hernández’ death, transgender rights groups questioned the conditions that asylum seekers face when detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE, pointing to numerous reports of immigrants held in freezing holding cells and reports that Hernández died after suffering complications from pneumonia.

A coalition of transgender and immigrant rights groups earlier this week called on the federal government to release all transgender detainees, given the abuse they often suffer in detention.

"ICE has shown time and again it is incapable of protecting transgender women in detention," Flor Bermúdez, legal director at Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. "Transgender people should not be detained by ICE, at all."

Hernández told BuzzFeed News last month that she fled the violence she faced in Honduras for being a transgender woman. She said she was raped by members of the MS-13 gang before embarking on her journey to the U.S. "Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags," she said.

Hernández traveled more than 2,000 miles to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, joining some 1,300 migrants in the highly publicized caravan that infuriated President Donald Trump as it wound it way through Mexico toward California. 

On May 9, Hernández crossed the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, according to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the group that organized the caravan. For five days, she was reportedly held in a CBP "icebox," holding cells that are notorious for their extremely low temperatures. The group says it took immigration authorities a week before they recognized that Hernández needed medical attention.

"Roxy died due to medical negligence by U.S. immigration authorities," Pueblo Sin Fronteras said in a joint statement with other immigrant rights groups. "In other words, she was murdered."