A transgender woman reportedly died in I.CE. custody last Friday after being detained for five days in a small cell fraught with freezing temperatures.
Roxana Hernandez, 33, arrived in California early in May. After a 2,000-mile journey, the transgender woman was banking on the opportunity to file an asylum application. Citing widespread “violence” and “hate” against the LGBT community in Honduras, Hernandez traveled overland as part of a migrant caravan.
Upon reaching the San Ysidro crossing in southern California, Hernandez was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protections officials. She spent five days in their CBP custody before being remanded to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in San Diego.
By the end of the week, Hernandez was showing signs of serious illness. On the 17th, she was admitted to Cibola General Hospital with pneumonia symptoms, dehydration and HIV-related complications. She was transferred to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the same afternoon.
On Friday, Hernandez was pronounced dead, the cause listed as cardiac arrest.
But, writes the New York Daily News, immigration advocates have referred to the tragedy as a man-made catastrophe. In a statement issued Wednesday, several nonprofit groups accuse U.S. authorities of malnourishing Hernandez.
On top of that, they say she was denied medical care and locked away in a freezing room known to immigrants as the “icebox.”
“During her first week in the United States, Roxy’s body and spirit quickly deteriorated,” read the statement, issued by groups Pueblos Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras.
“Roxy died due to medical negligence by U.S. immigration authorities,” they allege. “In other words, she was murdered.
“Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life. She died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”
The Transgender Law Center—called a leading transgender advocacy group by The Guardian—called Hernandez’s treatment in American custody ‘negligent.’ TLC, along with a handful of other organizations, is now calling upon Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop detaining transgender women altogether.
“If you have an incoming immigrant that shows signs of medical distress—including being HIV-positive and having pneumonia—it is negligent to place them in the ‘ice box’ for any amount of time,” said Flor Bermudez, legal director of the Transgender Law Center. “They might have wrongfully caused her death.”
Bermudez and the TLC say that many members of the caravan containing Hernandez were women and transgender individuals—all of whom were fleeing countries where sexual violence runs rampant. Although most hope for a better life in the United States, vulnerable groups can face ‘similar risks’ in I.C.E. custody.
“They are targeted and harassed by police or held in detention where they experience violence, discrimination, and [are unable] to access medical care, all of which may lead to dire consequences,” the TLC said in a statement.
In an interview with BuzzFeed shortly before leaving Mexico, Hernandez says she contracted HIV after being gang-raped walking home in Honduras.
“Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags,” she said.
In a news release from I.C.E., the agency said Hernandez is the sixth migrant to die in its custody since the beginning of the fiscal year, which began in October.