Surveillance video documenting the treatment of a transgender refugee who died in U.S. custody was mysteriously deleted. Now, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Richard Blumenthal want to know why.
The death of Honduran refugee Roxsana Hernandez has been the subject of controversy now for more than a year. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator concluded Hernandez died of complications from HIV. But an autopsy funded by the Transgender Law Center found she died from abuse while she was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hernandez’s family sought video of Hernandez and the conditions she endured in a privately run New Mexico detention center before she died in a hospital, but ICE indicated such video had been deleted, as first reported by The Washington Post.
Harris, a Democratic candidate for president, joined with Blumenthal in demanding an accounting by ICE about how video could disappear.
"There remain significant factual disputes relating to the circumstances surrounding Ms. Hernández’s death," reads their letter, according to BuzzFeed News. "Ms. Hernandez's surviving family, the United States Congress, and the American people deserve answers."
“If nothing went wrong, why wouldn’t they hold on to this?” Lynly Egyes, TLC’s legal director, said to the Post. “What did happen in those last hours that they chose to destroy?”
ICE officials declined to comment based on pending litigation with TLC. But an email from the detention center indicates video routinely is erased there.
“The requested video is no longer available," a supervising officer wrote in an email response to a request for the content. "The footage is held in memory up to around 90 days. They attempted to locate and was negative.”
CoreCivic, which runs the detention center, told BuzzFeed the digital surveillance equipment at the center is not capable of storing video for more than 90 days.
The acting director of ICE at the time of Hernandez’s death has since resigned.
Harris previously joined with New Mexico Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in calling for a further explanation of circumstances surrounding Hernandez's death.