Newly released records reveal CBP and ICE’s failure to provide Roxsana Hernandez with necessary medical care
Today Transgender Law Center (TLC) and the Law Office of R. Andrew Free released to the public documents received from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) that provide disturbing details about Roxsana Hernandez’s final days in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE custody. Chillingly, the documents also reveal that video footage of Roxsana while in detention may have been deleted, even though an active investigation into the circumstances that led to her death was underway.
The documents released today were received as the result of a lawsuit filed against ICE, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) demanding the release of any and all documents about Roxsana Hernandez while in CBP and ICE custody. They provide a timeline of what CBP and ICE knew about Roxsana’s medical condition and when they knew it. Ultimately, they provide insight into the skewed motivations CBP officers and ICE agents have when interacting with a visibly ill person in their custody.
Because of the fact that ICE and CoreCivic may have destroyed video footage, TLC, the Law Office of R. Andrew Free, and the Law Office of Lynn Coyle filed a lawsuit against CoreCivic, a contractor of Cibola County, to turn over all records, including video footage, related to Roxsana’s untimely death. This request is especially urgent in light of the subsequent deaths of people while in custody of immigration enforcement.
The documents provide the following timeline of events:
On May 11, 2018, two days after she sought asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Roxsana was given a medical screening. At this time, she told a CBP officer that she was living with HIV and was not currently on medication. She also noted that over the past month she had “lost 40 pounds and had reoccurring vomiting and diarrhea.” (Less than a week later, on May 17 when she arrived at Cibola, it was noted that she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 89 pounds.) Her initial medical screening indicated that she was “Not medically cleared for transport and incarceration” and that she needed to go to an emergency room for a “chest X-ray and evaluation to rule out active infection and sepsis.”
That same day (May 11) she was brought to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista. The chief complaint in the medical emergency record is to “rule out tuberculosis,” which would have rendered her unable to enter into detention. A doctor indicated there was “no clinical evidence of tuberculosis,” but she was diagnosed with bronchitis and prescribed medication. According to the Detainee Death Review, at no point does it seem that she received HIV medication. It was also noted at that time in an addendum that a CBP officer told the doctor that Roxsana was living with HIV and was currently not on medication. The doctor indicated that there would need to be follow-up with “Jails/Customs Medical for this.”
A Short Form Complaint from CRCL states that on May 11th, the same day that an internal medical screening determined that she was “Not medically cleared for transport and incarceration,” she was later cleared for transport and detention.
“Any person with common sense who encountered Roxsana while she was in custody could see that she was visibly ill. It does not take a medical degree to understand that a person who was experiencing extreme weight loss, a bad cough, and intermittent fevers should not be put in a cage” said Lynly Egyes, TLC’s legal director. “Roxsana needed medical care and yet she was cleared to be incarcerated. At numerous times throughout her days in immigration enforcement custody, the people she was detained with pleaded for her to receive medical care. It is clear from these records that if immigration enforcement believes that their sole duty is to shuffle people into immigration prisons, that is what they’ll do. As a result, the consequences for those who are either sick or who get sick while in their custody can be fatal.”
The records received also point to various discrepancies in the medical treatment Roxsana received and immigration enforcement’s internal protocols. For example, the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) ICE Air Operations Handbook states that any person in ICE custody that requires medication must be medicated prior to traveling by air and that those medications must be given to the Flight Nurse. According to ICE’s protocol any person who is in their custody and traveling by air who requires medication must have at least a 7-day supply before boarding. The Handbook also states that in accordance with Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), “detainees transferred from one detention facility to another diagnosed with HIV/AIDS must be provided a 30-day supply of medication, as ordered by the prescribing authority.” At various times throughout the Detainee Death Review it is noted that it does not appear Roxsana received the medication she was prescribed for her bronchitis and intermittent fever or necessary medication for HIV.
The Detainee Death Review cites video of Roxsana’s time while at Cibola County Correctional Center to illustrate other discrepancies in ICE’s internal timeline of where and when Roxsana was at any given time while she was in custody. The video was viewed on site by those that prepared the Review, according to an email exchange between ICE headquarters and ICE Albuquerque. Through the records received, Roxsana’s family’s attorneys learned that that video has been allegedly deleted.
“How can ICE and CoreCivic claim any kind of transparency when they withheld video footage during an active investigation,” added Andrew Free. “They were on notice to preserve any and all video surveillance and it seems they may have failed to do so. We filed suit because we have reason to believe they may be withholding more evidence. The public has the right to know what happened to people who die in the custody of the U.S. government and CoreCivic is not above the law.”
Since the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, two people have died in ICE custody. One of them was Nebane Abienwi, a 37-year-old man from Cameroon, who was being detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. Nebane presented himself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on September 5 seeking asylum. He was detained in Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) in San Diego before he was rushed to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center where he died after experiencing a medical emergency in the middle of the night at OMDC.
“For years, we have called for CBP and ICE to be held accountable for their actions. We seek justice for Roxsana and Nebane, and all of those impacted by cruel and inhumane immigration practices. We call on DHS and the Trump Administration to allow Nebane’s family entry into the US so they can accompany his body back to Cameroon,” said Nekessa Opoti, of the #NebaneAbienwi committee. “CBP and ICE have no business detaining anyone. No one should be locked up for seeking safety and wanting a better life.”
The #NebaneAbienwi committee comprises Afripac, Alemayehu African Dream, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Immigrant Collective, Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and UndocuBlack.
The documents are available to view here:
Detainee Death Review (Content Warning: Includes graphic details.)
Transgender Law Center (TLC) is the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation. Learn more at transgenderlawcenter.org.