Abuse And Death Of Transgender Woman In ICE Detention Highlights Need For Action

A transgender woman, named Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, died in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) in May of this year. At the time of her death there was an outpour of calls for justice for Hernandez, noting the failure of ICE to appropriately support her medical and mental health care. However, in the past week, this story has resurfaced based on an independent autopsy which reveals that Hernandez appears to have been physically abused before her death. This story demonstrates the negligence which Hernandez experienced as a transwoman and asylum seeker, and brings into question the overall value being placed upon both trans and immigrant bodies. Particularly in the current political climate within the U.S., the abuses inflicted upon Hernandez represent the low level of duty and care being given to immigrants and the trans community.

Isa Noyola, Deputy Director at the Transgender Law Centre, stated that “paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernandez sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life.” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also stated that “LGBTQ migrants, especially transgender women, face higher rates of abuse in immigration detention facilities. Hernandez’s death raises serious questions regarding the treatment she received while in ICE custody, and we expect ICE to provide answers to those questions.” A spokesperson for ICE named Danielle Bennett, has responded to the allegations, noting that ICE “cannot speak to the validity of the private autopsy,” stating that “the allegations that she was abused in ICE custody are false.”

Hernandez was fleeing from Honduras based on the fear of persecution, stating to Buzzfeed News months before her death that “trans people in my neighbourhood are killed and chopped into pieces.” However, according to the Transgender Law Centre, “once in the United States, transgender immigrants may often face similar risks…as they are targeted and harassed by policy or held in detention where they experience violence, discrimination, and an inability to access medical care.” This is reflected through the overwhelming current of negative political rhetoric, primarily from The White House, regarding both trans issues and immigration. President Trump referred to a recent caravan of Central American migrants as an “invasion,” telling them to “turn back now, because you’re not getting in.”

The death of Roxsana Hernandez highlights the cruel reality facing trans-people who are seeking asylum in the United States. Not only are institutions such as ICE unable to protect the lives of those who are most vulnerable, but they are also not held accountable for treating transgender people as disposable, and not worthy of protection. Aside from the obvious abuses of power within ICE detention through the physical abuses inflicted upon Hernandez, the conditions themselves are not acceptable to any human being. It is vital that we recognize the implications that institutions such as ICE have upon the wellbeing of immigrants, but specifically those who are transgender. Flor Bermudez, Legal Director at Transgender Law Centre, states that “this is why TLC’s Trans Immigrant Defence Effort (TIDE) has organized to demand the liberation of transgender women from detention and the end of all detention and deportations. ICE has shown time and again it is incapable of protecting transgender women in detention. Transgender people should not be detained by ICE at all.”