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ICE Destroyed Footage of Trans Woman Who Died in Its Custody


The agency is required to retain footage that could be used in lawsuits but erased it anyway.

Roxsana Hernandez arrived in ICE custody on May 9, 2018, and within three weeks, she was dead. Now the agency says they deleted evidence of her medical condition, despite requirements that they retain video footage that could be used in future litigation.

Hernandez was part of the 2018 caravan of displaced people from Central and South America and was fleeing abuse and gang violence in Honduras. She had been diagnosed with HIV after gangs repeatedly raped her. She wanted to stay in her country of origin, but feared that she'd be a target of widespread violence as a trans woman.

Upon her arrival in the United States, medical professionals noted that she appeared to be unwell, possibly suffering from malnutrition. ICE transferred her among facilities over the course of two weeks, and on May 25, she passed away.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said she died due to AIDS-related complications.

Though her body was badly bruised and she had fractured ribs, the medical investigator's report claimed she sustained those injuries from CPR attempts. An independent autopsy, however, suggested her injuries were the result of blows, kicks, and being struck by a blunt object.

Her family is preparing to sue, with help from the Transgender Law Center.

But according toBuzzFeed, that potential lawsuit will be complicated by ICE's failure to retain video footage. Federal law requires that the agency save such evidence, but a records request revealed that it was treated as regular, unimportant evidence and deleted after 90 days.

ICE had contracted Hernandez's detention out to a for-profit prison operated by the company CoreCivic.

BuzzFeed reviewed documents related to Hernandez's death and found she may not have been provided with adequate medical care. ICE is required to provide medication to people with HIV, but an internal report does not indicate that ever happened.

According to an internal ICE review, Hernandez "was immunocompromised and ill" upon her arrival and sent to an emergency room.

But according to ICE officials, the agency was unable to evaluate her medical needs because it was continually transferring her from one facility to another, barely keeping her in some locations for more than a day. In one case, she was at a facility for just six hours before being moved. Much of her time was spent being moved from one ICE prison to another.

An attorney for Hernandez's family, Andrew Free, says ICE prioritized her repeated relocations over her medical needs.

"Her need for medical attention was obvious, it was documented, and it was life threatening, and the records we have to date indicate that ICE officials knew those three things and decided to transfer her," Free said. "If DHS cannot be trusted to play by the rules, both before and after a detained migrant's death based on these records, how can DHS be trusted to continue imprisoning migrants at all?"

Under the Trump administration, ICE has grown increasingly hostile to immigrants. Around the beginning of the year, the Trump administration created a "Remain in Mexico" policy' that requires asylum seekers to wait outside the United States for an undetermined amount of time while courts process their applications. In some cases, that's forced people to endure homophobic violence for months while the United States stalls.

Transgender refugees, who are disproportionately targeted for violence, are placed at particular risk when forced to remain in hostile areas.

Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren have called for reforms in the ICE policies towards trans asylum seekers. In a press release, Warren's office wrote, "those policies and practices, which turn transgender asylum seekers away from the United States, place them in harm's way, and violate the United States' moral and legal obligations."

RELATED | A Transgender Asylum Seeker Was Reportedly Beaten in ICE Custody

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