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Image credit: United We Dream

Times Square billboard gives trans woman's death a necessary spotlight

December 21, 2018

The recent death of Roxsána Hernández Rodriguez, a transgender woman from Honduras haunts the LGBTQ and Latinx community. Roxsána’s death represents the negligent and abusive treatment of immigrants and LGBTQ+ individuals as they seek asylum. When she died in a privately owned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in New Mexico, questions were raised about her treatment by ICE officials. Upon arrival to the facility, Hernández Rodriguez was allegedly sent to an “ice box”—a holding cell that is kept at low temperatures. After her death and subsequent autopsy, it was reported that Hernández Rodriguez suffered from physical abuse, including dehydration, while in ICE custody.

Yesterday, the immigrant advocacy organization United We Dream revealed a billboard in New York City’s Times Square memorializing the deaths of Roxsána and three other migrants, two of which also died in ICE custody. The billboard is a call to action to end the Trump Administration’s funding of ICE and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Among the migrants included in the ad is Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, a 7-year old from Guatemala. Caal Maquin is one of the most recent documented deaths from the caravan, having died less than two weeks ago in CBP custody.

Reports of abuse in Hernández Rodriguez’s death came in the midst of rising tensions at the U.S. border. Just weeks ago, U.S. officials deployed tear gas on peaceful migrants as they neared the border. Powerful images of families running from the chemicals demonstrate the brutality of the current administration and its animosity towards migrants.

All those seeking asylum are, at present, doing so legally. They come from different backgrounds, facing varying levels of discrimination ranging from harassment to death. Among the dozens of families who are fleeing violence and lack of opportunity are eighty LGBTQ+ individuals within the caravan who hope to find a safer future.

Often, LGBTQ+ individuals face harsh fates in their home countries. Central American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras have some of the highest LGBTQ+ murder rates in the world. The government in these countries are also non-sympathizing, with many of them denouncing or even criminalizing LGBTQ+ individuals for their sexuality. In the face of these barriers, Central American and LGBTQ immigrants continue and will continue to come in hope of a better future.

Latinx and migrant Central Americans have a rich and deep history in the U.S. Without this history, I wouldn’t be here. Sixty years ago, my grandmother moved to the United States from Mexico to find a better life for her family. Around the same time, my grandfather, on my father’s side, was crossing the border into California. Growing up, they would tell us stories about border patrol, the “coyotes,” and the desert. Many migrants feel they have no choice but to make the trek to the United States because of the severe threats in their countries. Migrants often have to face severe conditions and looming threats to make it to the United States, including dehydration, starvation, and border patrol officials. This is no exception decades later, especially for LGBTQ Central Americans.

When these brave migrants finally make out of their country of origin, they often find that the path to acceptance and freedom is marred by bigotry and discrimination in the United States. As was the case for Roxsána Hernández Rodriguez.

As of mid-December, ICE has denied responsibility for their abuse of Roxsána Hernández Rodriguez, even with pressure coming from members of the U.S. Senate to release documents relating to Hernández Rodriguez’s stay in their custody. Additionally, the Transgender Law Center, Black LGBTQ Migrant Project, and Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement have joined forces to lead the co-counsel in a Wrongful Death Tort Claim on behalf of Roxsána.

Transgender people in the U.S. remain extremely marginalized, particularly in recent months, as they’ve been targeted by the Trump Administration. Prejudice and ignorance in U.S. government entities, like ICE, take their cues on how to treat migrants and transgender people from this administration. This negligent treatment must end before more lives are lost.

Federico Yñiguez is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and sophomore at California State University, Long Beach studying graphic design. He is a proud member of his university's Queers and Allies club.

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