ICE Deleted Surveillance Video of a Transgender Asylum-Seeker Who Mysteriously Died in its Custody

Photo: Transgender Law Center

Roxsana Hernández, a Honduran refugee, died mysteriously while she was being held in a privately-run ICE facility in New Mexico last year on May 25, 2018. Now, Roxsana Hernández’s family wants to know the circumstances surrounding her death and the days leading up to it, but attorneys say that ICE improperly destroyed surveillance footage of her while she was in custody.

The surveillance footage which could have shed light on 33-year-old Hernández’s death, but The Washington Post reports that email exchanges from ICE officials were released in response to a lawsuit and revealed that the privately-run detention center had deleted the footage. Lawyers call it a disturbing development as they search for justice for Hernández, who died only weeks after surrendering at a port of entry to the United States. An independent autopsy ordered by her family show that before she died, she had “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV.” However, there was evidence that she was beaten before she died.

Andrew Free, who is working her case, said that the video would have been able to show her health leading up to her death. Free told Buzzfeed News, “ICE and CoreCivic [the company that operated the facility] have consistently denied wrongdoing and stated that they in effect provided Roxsana with all the health care she needed. The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.” Hernández’s death has fueled scrutiny of ICE and their treatment of LGBTQ detainees as critics allege that the agency fails to provide adequate medical care for conditions such as HIV.

According to a statement from the operator of CoreCivic, the New Mexico facility, the facility’s surveillance video is routinely wiped as to not run out of storage. But since Hernández’s surveillance footage is part of an ongoing investigation, Transgender Law Center, who filed a wrongful death claim on Hernández’s behalf last fall, argues that ICE and its private partner on the detention center should have kept the footage. The loss of the footage has only made advocates even more suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Hernández’s death. “If nothing went wrong, why wouldn’t they hold on to this?” Lynly Egyes, the Transgender Law Center’s legal director, told The Washington Post. “What did happen in those last hours that they chose to destroy?”

Four days after entering ICE’s custody, Hernández was taken to hospital with symptoms of dehydration, pneumonia, and complications from untreated HIV. A little over a week later, she was dead. ICE spokeswoman Britney Walker said that staff attributed the death to cardiac arrest, and that an autopsy conducted by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator found that Hernández died of a rare disease that was contracted because of AIDS, following a “rapidly progressive illness.” The Transgender Law Center contends, however, that Hernández died from poor medical care. The lawyers at the center say that she died from poor medical care.

The Transgender Law Center says her health worsened in the facility, being forced to spend time in a cold holding area which exasperated her symptoms. She was also cleared for transport and incarceration the very same day a medical screening found her unfit for it. ICE’s detainee death review found that there were no issues with how Hernández was cared for in custody, though she was not provided with any HIV medications. “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,” said Andrew Free. “If [the Department of Homeland Security] 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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