Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez trans woman New Mexico Cibola General Hospital Cibola County Correctional Center detainee ICE HIV family R. Andrew Free attorney death abuse Lovelace Medical Center
Photo courtesy of Anakai Flotte/Diversidad Sin Fronteras

ICE Deletes Surveillance Video Needed to Investigate the Death of Trans Woman Asylum-Seeker

Key surveillance video evidence in the death of a transgender woman who sought asylum in New Mexico appears to have been deleted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, according to a BuzzFeed report. Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez’s death was under investigation after her family retained an attorney to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the agency.

R. Andrew Free, an attorney working on Hernández Rodriguez’s case, requested the surveillance video from ICE officials following an independent autopsy report which showed that she had been beaten while in custody, as well as not treated for dehydration and pneumonia.

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The video evidence was to have been preserved in order to use it in litigation. However, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility informed him via email that the video was “no longer available.”

“ICE and CoreCivic [the company that operated the facility] have consistently denied wrongdoing and stated that they in effect provided Roxsana with all the healthcare she needed,” Free told BuzzFeed News. “The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.”

According to CBS News, the trans woman left Honduras for the United States to seek asylum in May 2018. Hernández Rodriguez was 33 years old on May 9, 2018, when she crossed the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry between San Diego and Tijuana. She was taken into custody by ICE agents in San Diego on May 13. While she was being detained, Hernández Rodriguez had to be admitted to the hospital. She was quickly released. Two days later, she was transferred to an ICE processing center in El Paso, Texas, before being moved to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., on May 16. According to ICE, she was detained in a transgender unit there.

Before arriving at the center, the Honduran asylum-seeker’s health had already begun to deteriorate. She was HIV-positive and suffered from dehydration and pneumonia associated with complications from the illness, according to ICE officials. She was admitted to Cibola General Hospital on May 17 and later that day was airlifted to Lovelace Medical Center, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Hernández Rodriguez died there on May 25.

Conditions at the Cibola County Correctional Center were abhorrent, and Hernández Rodriguez had been subjected to horrible abuse and neglect inside the facility, according to Free. Her family and attorney believe she was beaten, though ICE listed her cause of death as cardiac arrest, which is why they ordered the independent autopsy.

“A review of Hernández Rodriguez‘s death conducted by ICE Health Service Corps medical professionals confirmed that she suffered from a history of untreated HIV,” ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said in a statement following the results of the independent autopsy in November 2018. “At no time did the medical personnel treating Ms. Hernández at Cibola General Hospital or Lovelace Medical Center raise any issues of suspected physical abuse.”

Since Hernández Rodriguez‘s death, ICE and CoreCivic reportedly have implemented protective measures to ensure the safety of transgender individuals. The organizations also stressed that they are required to comply with federal guidelines from the Performance-Based National Detention Standards for housing transgender detainees.

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