November 05, 2019

Members of Congress Call for Investigation After ICE Deletes Video Needed to Investigate the Death of Roxsana Hernandez

WASHINGTON— Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Committee Chairs and the New Mexico Delegation called on the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to launch an investigation into the actions of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) with regard to the treatment of Roxsana Hernandez and ICE’s failure to preserve video evidence that may have been crucial to her family seeking justice. Roxsana, a trans woman from Honduras, died just weeks after arriving in the United States.

The letter was signed by CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (MS-2), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Judiciary Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (NM-3), Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2), and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-1).

“We are alarmed by reports that ICE failed to preserve surveillance footage related to the death of Roxsana Hernandez. This video footage would have shown Ms. Hernandez’s final days in ICE detention before she was transferred to the hospital and died. Ms. Hernandez’s family and attorneys contend her death was preventable because she received inadequate medical care,” the Members wrote. “In addition, they allege Ms. Hernandez was physically abused while detained at the Cibola County Corrections Center. An independent autopsy found evidence of physical assault and abuse, including deep bruising on Ms. Hernandez’s rib cage and deep contusions on her back. Her wrists also showed bleeding consistent with handcuff injuries. Video surveillance would have been crucial in determining how Ms. Hernandez was treated while in ICE detention, but this video was deleted.”

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

Dear Dr. Cuffari:

We are alarmed by reports that U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) failed to preserve surveillance footage related to the death of Roxsana Hernandez. This video footage would have shown Ms. Hernandez’s final days in ICE detention before she was transferred to the hospital and died.

Roxsana Hernandez, 33, was a trans woman from Honduras who presented herself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California on May 9, 2018.  On May 13, she was transferred to ICE custody at Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico.  On May 17, Ms. Hernandez was admitted to Cibola General Hospital and later transferred to Albuquerque’s Lovelace Medical Center.  She remained at Lovelace Medical Center in intensive care until she died on May 25.  The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator found Hernandez died of a rare disease contracted due to AIDS, following a “rapidly progressive illness.” 

Ms. Hernandez’s family and attorneys contend her death was preventable because she received inadequate medical care.   In addition, they allege Ms. Hernandez was physically abused while detained at the Cibola County Corrections Center.   An independent autopsy found evidence of physical assault and abuse, including deep bruising on Ms. Hernandez’s rib cage and deep contusions on her back. Her wrists also showed bleeding consistent with handcuff injuries.

Video surveillance would have been crucial in determining how Ms. Hernandez was treated while in ICE detention, but this video was deleted.  According to an August 22, 2018 email, an official with ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility requested a CD of video surveillance watched onsite at the Cibola County Corrections Center.   However, a staff member from ICE’s Albuquerque office replied on August 28 saying “the requested video was no longer available since footage is held in memory up to around 90 days.” 

We ask that the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General investigate:

(1)        Whether Ms. Roxsana Hernandez received adequate medical care while in ICE custody;

(2)        If Ms. Hernandez was abused while in ICE custody;

(3)        The extent to which ICE protocols for reviewing a detainee’s death were followed in the case of Ms. Hernandez; and

(4)        Whether ICE’s protocols for internal reviews of detainee deaths are sufficient, including any policies on retaining video surveillance.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,