Trump's America

Did ICE destroy evidence of wrongdoing in the death of a transgender woman?

Courtesy Transgender Law Center

Officials for ICE deleted pivotal and sensitive surveillance footage of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman who died while in custody. Critics say the move could be an attempt to derail a wrongful death lawsuit.

Hernández’s case remains under review with the Transgender Law Center. Andrew Free, a lawyer working with the TLC on the case, hotly criticized ICE for erasing the footage. “ICE and CoreCivic have consistently denied wrongdoing and stated that they in effect provided Roxsana with all the health care she needed,” BuzzFeed News reports. “The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.”

ICE refuses to comment on the allegations, other than to say that surveillance footage is routinely deleted after 90 days. The family of Hernández had requested the footage as part of their own investigation well within the 90-day limit. Their request was ignored.

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Hernández died of complications from AIDS while in a detention facility operated by CoreCivic, a private security firm that manages the facility at Cibola, just outside Albuquerque. CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison companies in the country. The family of Hernández claims she did not receive proper treatment after an internal investigation by ICE found no evidence that she ever received medication for her HIV+ status. ICE rules state that HIV+ detainees must receive a 30-day supply of antiretroviral medication. Furthermore, an autopsy conducted after her death revealed signs of abuse.

Philip Farabaugh, deputy medical director for ICE Health Service Corps, points out that despite ICE’s policy on HIV+ detainees, administering proper medication requires time and a medical examination. “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. “HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand.”

Hernández came to the United States to seek asylum from hostility in Honduras against transgender people. “They kill trans people in Honduras. I’m scared of that,” she said while in transit to the US. Hernández also claimed that a brutal gang rape in Honduras prompted her to come to the US.

Following her death, Hernández’s family began to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE, claiming she did not receive proper care. “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,” Andrew Free says. “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?”

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