Transgender migrant dies while in US custody
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The death of a transgender woman while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has prompted advocates to demand that LGBTQ migrant detainees be freed until their cases are heard.
The outcry came even as President Donald Trump and others increasingly criticize the practice known as “catch and release” in which migrants are freed while subject to deportation.
Federal officials are awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine what caused the death of the 33-year-old Honduran migrant Friday at an Albuquerque hospital. The woman was admitted after showing symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV.
Activists identified the migrant as Roxana Hernandez and said she was part of a highly publicized caravan of Central American asylum seekers who traveled through Mexico to the U.S. border at San Diego last month. The effort drew the attention of Trump, who tweeted that they shouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S.
Authorities listed the woman’s name as Jeffry Hernandez when she was taken into custody in San Diego. She was later transferred to El Paso, Texas, and then to a detention center in New Mexico where she was housed in the transgender unit.
She was the sixth detainee to die in ICE custody since October 2017.
Nineteen members of Congress on Wednesday sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, expressing concerns about how LBGTQ migrants are housed and whether they are protected from abuse.
“These individuals, particularly transgender women, are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody,” said the letter signed by U.S. Rep. Kathleen M. Rice, a Democrat from New York, and 18 other U.S. lawmakers.
The letter asked the federal agency to use its discretion to release migrants considered at high risk for abuse so they are safe throughout their immigration proceedings.
The California-based Transgender Law Center and other groups also issued statements demanding that transgender people not be detained by immigration authorities while their cases are being reviewed.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement clearly cannot detain transgender women safely, and therefore should not detain transgender women at all,” said Aaron C. Morris, executive director of New York-based Immigration Equality, a national LGBTQ migrant rights group.
Anandrea Molina, president of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, said: “The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis.”
Organizers from Pueblo Sin Fronteras said Hernandez presented herself to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the San Ysidro port of entry in California on May 9 and asked for asylum. The group questioned whether she received adequate medical care while in federal custody.
She was turned over on May 13 to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees immigration detention centers. Both agencies are part of the Department of Homeland Security.
ICE says all detainees get medical, dental and mental health screening within 12 hours of arriving at a detention facility. Detainees also have access to 24-hour emergency care.
Immigration authorities have said Hernandez was admitted May 17 to Cibola General Hospital in Grants, New Mexico. She was transferred later that day to the Albuquerque hospital, where she remained in the intensive care unit until she was pronounced dead. Hospital staff said the preliminary cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Immigration authorities say that between 2005 and 2009, Hernandez twice illegally entered the U.S. and was allowed to voluntarily return to Mexico because she claimed Mexican nationality. Central America migrants often claim to be Mexicans so they won’t be transported back to their country of origin.
In 2014, Hernandez illegally re-entered the U.S. a third time and was arrested and removed. Authorities say.
Authorities also say she was convicted of theft in 2006 and of prostitution and other charges in 2009. Both cases were in Texas.
Snow reported from Phoenix. AP writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego also contributed to this report.