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Transgender Immigrant Dies in Federal Custody

Cibola County Correctional Center

The recent death of a transgender asylum-seeker from Honduras while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement highlights the need for release of all trans people in ICE detention, activists say.

Roxana Hernández, 33, died Friday of complications from pneumonia while in ICE custody at the Cibola County Correctional Facility, a privately run prison in New Mexico, according to a news release from the Transgender Law Center, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas.

“Although she was processed into the United States on May 13, 2018, it is unclear where and in what conditions Ms. Hernández was held for the five days she was in custody until she was transferred to ICE,” the release notes. “It has been repeatedly reported that asylum seekers at the border are held in freezing holding cells (often referred to as ‘hieleras’) for days.”

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety, or even life,” said Isa Noyola, deputy director at Transgender Law Center, in the release.

“It is alarming that transgender communities continue to face transphobic violence outside and inside of detention walls,” added Flor Bermudez, legal director at the law center. “This is why TLC’s Trans Immigrant Defense Effort 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.”

Transgender people often seek asylum in the U.S. due to discrimination and violence in their countries of origin, but once here they often face similar dangers, according to the transgender groups. Other immigrants are endangered as well, they said, noting the fatal shooting of a cisgender woman, Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzalez of Guatemala, by Border Patrol at the Texas-Mexico border last week.

The law center and the other groups called for ICE to adopt and immediately implement a policy against detaining transgender people; for the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over ICE, to parole all LGBT undocumented immigrants and those with life-threatening medical conditions; for the dismantling of ICE and Customs and Border Protection.

Trans activist Jennicet Gutiérrez famously confronted President Obama in 2015 regarding his policies regarding undocumented LGBT immigrants.

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