Trans Asylum-Seeker Was Reportedly Abused in Custody Before Her Death


Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a Honduran trans asylum-seeker who was held at a correctional facility in New Mexico after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, died in an Albuquerque hospital in May of this year. The “preliminary cause” of Hernandez’s death was cardiac arrest, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement press release issued at the time. Now, a new autopsy report finds that Hernandez “endured physical assault and abuse while in custody,” according to a notice of wrongful death filed by the Transgender Law Center.

The notice reads:

Ms. Hernandez was an HIV-positive trans woman who fled Honduras to seek asylum in the United States. While in Cibola, Ms. Hernandez did not receive necessary medical care and medication, leading to her hospitalization and ultimate death.
According to an independent autopsy report, Ms. Hernandez endured physical assault and abuse while in custody. Specifically, forensic evidence indicates she was handcuffed so tightly as to cause deep tissue bruising and struck repeatedly on the back and rib cage by an asp or similar instrument while her hands were restrained behind her back.

The attorney filing the notice on behalf of Hernandez and her family stated in a press release on the Transgender Law Center’s website that they plan to file a lawsuit against “relevant federal agencies” if requests for documentation around Hernandez’s death and treatment while in custody are not met.

A spokeswoman for the correctional facility that detained Hernandez told the Washington Post in a statement that “We’re also committed to providing a safe environment for transgender detainees.” ICE, according to the Post, declined to comment.

The independent autopsy on Hernandez was performed by Kris Sperry, formerly the chief medical examiner of Georgia who retired in 2015 after an investigation from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he “had taken on more than 500 cases as a paid forensic expert and that his moonlighting had created conflicts of interest.”

Hernandez, like many trans asylum-seekers, was fleeing violence and discrimination in her home country and, if the allegations of abuse are true, came to find it in the U.S., too. The story of her passage north for a better life and her death highlights the risks LGBTQ migrants face at home and once they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. In a statement, her sisters said, “Roxsana Hernandez was our sister and it was an injustice to have her die the way she did.” It went on: “It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal. It’s not fair. […] Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her. Justice for Roxsana.”

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