When 33-year-old transgender Honduran asylum seeker Roxsana Hernández died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody this past May, ICE officials claimed she’d been hospitalized for symptoms of pneumonia and dehydration, as well as HIV-related complications. However, according to an autopsy report released Monday—seven months after Hernández’s death—the agency failed to mention that Hernández also likely endured brutal physical abuse during the time she was held by the government.
In a legal filing on Monday, the Hernández family’s attorney R. Andrew Free wrote that, in addition to the illnesses that lead to Roxana’s death, the results of the independently performed autopsy showed that:
Ms. Hernandez endured physical assault and abuse while in custody. Specifically, forensic evidence indicates she was handcuffed so tightly as to cause deep tissue bruising and struck repeatedly on the back and rib cage by an asp or similar instrument while her hands were restrained behind her back.
With Monday’s filing, Free and the Transgender Law Center have begun the process of “holding all parties responsible for Roxsana Hernandez’s death accountable,” the TLC wrote in a press release announcing the suit.
Hernández had most recently come to the United States as part of a migrant caravan of asylum seekers this past spring. At the time, she told told BuzzFeed that she’d fled her native Honduras after gang members had raped her and said, “We don’t want you in this neighborhood, you fucking faggot.”
Aside from the beating Hernández had allegedly endured, TLC claims that during her time in ICE custody before her death, she’d been “repeatedly denied access to medical care,” while being held in “the notoriously cold holding areas, known as ‘hieleras.’”
In 2015, an American Immigration Council report painted a horrifying picture of these detention facilities, stating:
These facilities, which are often referred to as “hieleras” (Spanish for “freezers” or “iceboxes”), remain wholly inadequate for any overnight detention. Moreover, the conditions are reprehensible, even with respect to truly short-term detention. In addition to the fact that there are no beds in the holding cells, these facilities are extremely cold, frequently overcrowded, and routinely lacking in adequate food, water, and medical care.
In a statement released through TLC, Hernández’s sisters wrote that:
She fled Honduras because here transgender people are discriminated against. She left with hopes of living a better life. It has not been easy for us to accept that she is gone, we were very close. It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that she fled Honduras looking for a better life and instead she was murdered. Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her. Justice for Roxsana.
A 2014 Fusion investigation found that approximately 75 transgender people are detained by ICE on any given night. According to a National Center for Transgender Equality press release from June, trans detainees are the victims in 12 percent of reported sexual assaults despite making up just 0.1 percent of the population, and on average, trans detainees spend twice the amount of time in solitary confinement as cis detainees.