Roxsana Hernández, a 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras, came to the United States seeking asylum after fleeing along with numerous other displaced people from Central America in a group dubbed a migrant caravan by the media. Hernández had contracted HIV from repeated gang rapes and feared more retribution in her native country because she was trans. But a little more than two weeks after she arrived in the US seeking safety, she died in ICE custody.
ICE is required by law to preserve evidence, including video footage, that could be used in a lawsuit against the agency, but immigration officials deleted video of Hernández anyway following her death.
Hernández was frequently transferred from facility to facility, one time only staying at one facility for 6 hours before being transferred again. And while ICE’s detention standards require that HIV-positive detainees receive a 30-day supply of medication before being transferred, there is no evidence that Hernández received antiretrovirals for HIV during her stay.
According to attorney Andrew Free, who is working on Hernández’s case along with the Transgender Law Center, the deleted footage would have been key to their case, as it could have been used as evidence of Hernández’s health and condition while she was in custody. And, the attorney said, ICE’s repeated transfers were prioritized over her health and 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 told Out. “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?”
Philip Farabaugh, deputy medical director for ICE Health Service Corps, said the frequent transfers made it difficult to give her proper medical treatment. “Hernandez was in transit for most of her brief time with ICE. When she arrived at Cibola, such evaluation could not take place in such a short window of time prior to her transfer to the hospital,” Farabaugh said in a statement. “HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand.”
Hernández was briefly held at a facility run by CoreCivic, an ICE contractor and one of the biggest private prison companies in the United States. She passed away at a hospital in New Mexico on May 25. According to attorneys for Hernández, ICE and CoreCivic should have preserved footage of her because her family requested an independent autopsy, a sign that a lawsuit might have been forthcoming. CoreCivic said that all footage is deleted after 90 days and claims they were not made away of the lawsuit until November.
“That autopsy alone made it clear there was interest in this case,” Lynly Egyes, legal director at the Transgender Law Center told BuzzFeed News. “When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence.”
Free emphasized to BuzzFeed News the importance of the footage to their case. “ICE and CoreCivic have consistently denied wrongdoing and stated that they in effect provided Roxsana with all the health care she needed,” Free said. “The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.”
Correction: Hernández died in a New Mexico hospital, not at the CoreCivic facility, as was stated in an earlier version of this report.