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ICE destroyed video footage of a transgender asylum-seeker who mysteriously died in custody

Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez
Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez Photo: Transgender Law Center

Attorneys are accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of destroying evidence in the case of a transgender asylum seeker who died in their custody. An autopsy showed that she was beaten before she died.

Honduran refugee Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez died on May 25, 2018, while she was being held in a privately-run ICE facility in New Mexico, and attorneys who would be filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of her family say that ICE improperly destroyed surveillance footage of her while she was in custody.

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An independent autopsy ordered by her family showed that she had “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV” before she died, as well as evidence that she was beaten before her death.

Andrew Free, who is working on her case, said that the video would show her health before she died.

“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,” he told BuzzFeed News. “The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.”

An email dated August 22, 2018, shows the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility asking for the footage.

“The requested video is no longer available,” said an officer in a reply a week later. “The footage is held in memory up to around 90 days. They attempted to locate and was negative.”

Lynly Egyes of the Transgender Law Center said that, according to federal rules, ICE should have kept the footage if they believed that it would be used in litigation.

The independent autopsy conducted by the family in June 2018, “made it clear there was interest in this case,” Egyes said.

Several months after she died last year, Hernández Rodriguez’s family filed a notice of wrongful death. A lawsuit has not yet been filed.

ICE’s detainee death review found that there were no problems with how she was cared for while in custody, even though she was not provided with HIV medications. ICE Health Service Corps has said in previous statements that they do not initiate HIV treatment regimins in detainees who don’t have health problems.

“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,” Free, the attorney working on her wrongful death suit, said.

“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?”

Hernández Rodriguez was diagnosed with HIV in Honduras, where she said that she was forced to do sex work for gangs. She managed to escape and join a caravan of migrants headed to the U.S. border.

“I wanted to stay in Honduras, but I couldn’t,” she said in an interview before her death. “They kill trans people in Honduras. I’m scared of that.”

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