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Protest of woman’s death in ICE custody

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Protesters stand in a makeshift jail as a way to bring attention to the death of a transgender woman who died last month while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A protest and rally Wednesday to call attention to the death of a transgender woman while she was in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month drew about 75 people, who marched and chanted slogans within earshot of the Albuquerque ICE building at Mesa del Sol.

Many of the people attending were members of organizations representing the immigrant community and organizations that advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

As part of a “national day of action,” with protests around the country, they called upon Congress to abolish ICE and for the immediate release of all asylum-seeking immigrants at the privately run Cibola County Correctional Center, where ICE detainees are held in New Mexico. They also called upon New Mexico officials “for a review of conditions in every detention center in our state,” said Gabriela Hernandez, executive director of New Mexico Dream Team.

Leticia Zamarripa, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said of the Wednesday protest: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully.”

The dead transgender woman was identified by ICE as Jeffry Hernandez, 33. She went by the name Roxsana Hernandez, and was from Honduras, according to the protesters. However, a previously released statement from ICE said Hernandez twice entered the U.S. illegally between 2005 and 2009, and both times was granted voluntary return to Mexico after claiming Mexican nationality.

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Roxsana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transgender woman, died May 25 in an Albuquerque hospital while in the custody of ICE. (Courtesy: Joaquin Sanchez-Leal)

She also illegally re-entered the country a third time in 2014, was arrested, processed and removed.

Hernandez arrived at the U.S. San Ysidro Port of Entry in California on May 9 as part of the caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum. On May 16, she was transferred to the Cibola County Correctional Center, which is run by the private CoreCivic firm. The following day she was transported to a nearby hospital and ultimately transferred to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, where she died on May 25.

She was the sixth person to die in ICE custody since October, Gabriela Hernandez said.

A preliminary finding on the cause of death was cardiac arrest as a result of complications from HIV, according to the previously released ICE statement.

The protesters, however, said the cause of death was inhumane treatment and denial of prompt access to medical attention for a woman who was medically fragile from the moment she was taken into custody, said Joaquín Sánchez-Leal, an attorney with Instituto Legal in Albuquerque.

Hernandez spent her first five days in custody in extremely cold holding cells called “iceboxes,” where she “filled out paperwork and experienced hunger, fear and intimidation,” Sánchez-Leal said.

ICE, however, claims that “comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay.”

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Janette Penunuri holds a flier featuring a photo of Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died while in the custody of ICE. A protest Wednesday adjacent to the ICE building in Mesa del Sol attracted about 75 people. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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