A transgender woman who traveled to the United States in a migrant caravan through Mexico has died while in the custody of immigration officials.
Roxana Hernandez, 33, of Honduras died Friday at a hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She died from what appeared to be cardiac arrest, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
She arrived at the San Ysidro, California, port of entry near San Diego on May 9 to seek asylum, according to ICE and Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which organized and guided the caravan.
She had been in custody for about two weeks, waiting to be deported, when she died.
Several immigrant advocacy groups claim Hernandez died due to medical negligence by immigration officials.
“During her first week in the United States, Roxy’s body and spirit quickly deteriorated. Why incarcerate and torture her like this?,” a joint-statement by groups Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Diversidad Sin Fronteras and Al Otro Lado said.
Soon after asking for asylum, Hernandez was initially held at a detention center by US Customs and Border Protection.
She was cold, lacked adequate food or medical care, and was held in a cell with the lights turned on 24 hours a day, the groups said. They called the detention center an “ice box.”
A week later, ICE says she arrived at the transgender unit in the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico – a privately run federal prison for men that contracts with ICE.
But by the next day, she was taken to a local hospital with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and “complications associated with HIV,” ICE says. Hours later, she was transferred to hospital in Albuquerque where “she remained in the intensive care unit until her passing,” the agency said.
“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life,” said Isa Noyola, deputy director at Transgender Law Center.
In a statement about Hernandez’s death, ICE noted that comprehensive medical care is provided to migrants from the moment they arrive and throughout their stay.
“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,” it states.
An autopsy to determine her cause of death is pending.
Hernandez is the sixth person to die while in ICE custody since October, according to ICE.
Hernandez left her native country of Honduras to flee the “violence, hate, stigma, and vulnerability” she suffered as a transgender woman, Pueblo Sin Fronteras said.
“She saw in the United States the opportunity to start new life free of abuse, risk, and threats, by seeking asylum,” the organizations said.
Hernandez had crossed the US border at least three times before. She entered the country illegally twice between 2005 and 2009, and was granted voluntarily return to Mexico after claiming she was Mexican, ICE said. In 2014, Hernandez entered the US for a third time and was deported shortly after, according to ICE.