November 27, 2018 at 8:18 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Autopsy: Trans Honduran woman who died in ICE custody was beaten

An LGBTI advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, honors Roxsana Hernández, a transgender woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on May 25, 2018. Autopsy results indicate Hernández was beaten before her death. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Transgender Law Center on Monday released the results of an autopsy that shows a transgender Honduran woman with HIV was beaten before she died while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

Roxsana Hernández, who was from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, was among a group of trans women who were part of a 300-person caravan that traveled to the U.S. border earlier this year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection took Hernández into custody on May 9 when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego. She entered ICE custody four days later and was being housed in a unit for trans detainees at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., before she died at a hospital on May 25.

ICE in a press release notes Hernández was hospitalized with “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV” on May 17. ICE also said Hernández died from cardiac arrest.

The Transgender Law Center, which on Monday announced it plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in New Mexico with R. Andrew Free, a Nashville-based immigration lawyer, provided the Washington Blade with a copy of a second autopsy report that former Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry performed the second autopsy in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 8.

The report notes the second autopsy “disclosed evidence of physical abuse” that includes “deep bruising” on Hernández’s rib cage and “deep contusions extending onto the back.”

“The wrists also exhibited extensive regions of deep soft tissue and musculature hemorrhage, again not externally visible, which are typical of handcuff injuries,” reads the report.

The report also concludes the cause of death was “most probably severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection, with the probable presence of one or more opportunistic infections.”

“As the consequence of her immunocompromised condition, Ms. Hernández Rodriguez was susceptible to the physiologic effects of untreated dehydration, initiated by severe diarrhea and vomiting,” reads the report.

“According to observations of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernandez Rodriguez, the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.”

Transgender Legal Clinic Litigation Director Lynly Egyes on Monday said Hernández’s “death was entirely preventable.”

The press release the Transgender Legal Clinic released included a statement from Hernández’s sisters on whose behalf the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement are also advocating.

“Roxsana Hernández was our sister and it was an injustice to have her die the way she did,” they said. “They cut her life short and she was not able to fulfill her dreams. For us, her closest family, it’s been extremely painful to deal with.”

Border Patrol has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the autopsy report or the planned wrongful death lawsuit.

Hernández left Honduras ‘with hopes of living a better life’

Violence based on gender identity remain pervasive in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates. Activists in the Central American country with whom the Blade has spoken have said discrimination and poverty are among the myriad factors that prompt many trans Hondurans and other members of the LGBTI community to migrate to the U.S.

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has included the separation of migrant children from their parents once they entered the U.S., continues to spark outrage in the U.S. and around the world.

Thousands of migrants from Central America who hope to seek asylum in the U.S. arrived in the Mexican city of Tijuana earlier this month.

A group of LGBTI migrants who hope to seek asylum in the U.S. arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. (Photo by Yariel Váldes González/Tremenda Nota)

The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” A federal judge in San Francisco last week blocked the Trump administration from implementing a Nov. 9 executive order that sought to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they enter the country illegally from Mexico.

Border Patrol agents on Sunday used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of migrants who rushed the U.S. border in Tijuana. Trump on Monday threatened to “permanently” close the border if the Mexican government does not deport migrants back to their countries of origin.

Hernández’s sisters in the Transgender Law Center press release said she left Honduras “with dreams of opening a beauty salon and hopes of helping us out.” They added Hernández fled the country “because here transgender people are discriminated against.”

“She left with hopes of living a better life,” said Hernández’s sisters. “It has not been easy for us to accept that she is gone, we were very close. 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. It’s not fair that she fled Honduras looking for a better life and instead she was killed. Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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