Roxana Hernández, a 33-year-old trans immigrant from Honduras, was fleeing her country due to the risk that her gender identity presented in Central America. One of the members of the Caravan of Refugees, she died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Hernández said she had contracted HIV after she’d been gang-raped while walking home. “Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags,” she said.
According to the ICE report, Hernández allegedly died of “complications related to HIV after a five-day detention.” But according to groups of immigrant rights activists, the complications could have been the result of her confinement in what is often referred to as “the icebox,” ICE detention facilities known for their low temperatures.
In a statement announcing Hernandez’s death, ICE said comprehensive medical care is provided to detainees for the duration of their stay at the agency’s detention centers.
“All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care,” the statement said.
ICE’s statement also noted that Hernandez was convicted of lewd, immoral, indecent conduct and prostitution while in Dallas in May 2009, and was also convicted of theft while in the United States in 2006.
Jennicet Gutiérrez, national organizer for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, said Hernandez’s record is irrelevant to the fact that she died in ICE’s custody.
“They are responsible for her death. Trans women continue to face violence inside and outside detention centers, and are oftentimes forced to do sex work as a means of survival,” Gutiérrez said. “She was trying to find safety in the United States, and sadly she’s no longer with us. We demand answers and justice for Roxana.”
In addition to the temperatures to which she was subjected, Hernández reportedly did not receive adequate food or medical assistance and was locked in a cell where “the lights were turned on 24 hours a day.”
Following her death, LGBTQ activists have launched campaigns on her behalf through the hashtags #JusticeforRoxana and #AbolishICE, and the Transgender Law Center (TLC) described the treatment to which she was subjected as “negligent,” also issuing a statement with a list of demands, “including that ICE 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 icebox’ for any amount of time,” says Flor Bermúdez, legal director of TLC. “They might have wrongfully caused her death.”