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Denied Care and Held in 'Ice Box' Cell, Asylum Seeker's Death in ICE Custody Exposes Systemic Neglect and Abuse

"Roxy died due to medical negligence by U.S. immigration authorities. Why incarcerate and torture her like this?"

Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who was part of the caravan of migrants that arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks, died after being in ICE custody this month. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Immigrant rights groups are blaming ICE for the death of a transgender woman who died last Friday after seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and being held in the agency's custody for two weeks. The woman's death calls attention to the brutal treatment faced by immigrants held in ICE facilities, advocates say—cruelty that existed under the Obama administration and has worsened under President Donald Trump.

Thirty-three year old Roxsana Hernandez had arrived in the U.S. on May 9 with the migrant caravan of hundreds of people who had traveled through Mexico from Central America earlier this spring.

Hernandez was HIV-positive, and according to the group Pueblo Sin Frontera, which had organized the caravan, she died after having been held for several days in a cold cell known as an "ice box" at the San Ysidro port of entry.

Diversidad Sin Fronteras and Al Otro Lado joined the group in asserting that ICE was to blame for Hernandez's death, saying that she was given inadequate food and medical care and was held in a cell where the lights were on 24 hours a day.

"Roxy died due to medical negligence by U.S. immigration authorities," the groups said in a statement. "Why incarcerate and torture her like this? She had a home waiting for her in the United States. They could have let her go there. If they had, she would still be with us."

Hernandez had been taken to Cibola County Correctional Facility, which contracts with ICE, on May 16, then airlifted to the intensive care unit at a hospital in Albuquerque where she remained until she died on May 25 of cardiac arrest. She had also been found to suffer from pneumonia and dehydration.

According to Sarah Sherman-Stokes of Boston University's Immigrants' Rights and Human Trafficking Program, Hernandez was the sixth immigrant to die in ICE custody since October 2017, the beginning of this fiscal year.

Last year, Human Rights Watch highlighted the "dangerous and substandard" medical care offered to detainees in facilities run by ICE.

Immigrants' requests for care routinely go ignored, according to the group's report, entitled "Systemic Indifference," and facilities were found to disregard appropriate HIV screening guidelines and care for HIV-positive patients.

Significant lapses in medical care in immigration detention facilities "are not new problems," read the report, but HRW expressed concern that treating immigrants properly was being prioritized less and less under the Trump administration.

"ICE has been receiving reports of such substandard medical care for years but has failed to take meaningful action," wrote the group. "The Obama administration implemented several new programs meant to improve oversight, but these monitoring procedures remain inadequate, and the Trump administration has already announced plans to reverse many of these reforms."

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