Autopsy: Migrant detainee died from AIDS complications

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A Honduran transgender migrant, whose 2018 death while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sparked protests and calls for an investigation, died of a rare disorder that developed quickly due to AIDS, according to an autopsy released Tuesday.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator released its findings on the death of Roxsana Hernandez , 33, saying the disorder — known as multicentric Castleman disease — can progress rapidly in people with weakened immune systems and lead to death within weeks.

The autopsy also found Hernandez suffered from extensive fractures of her ribs and breastbone after medical staff performed CPR in response to at least 10 heart attacks.

“This case has taken almost a year to close because the autopsy was complex and required additional testing and consultation,” Chief Medical Investigator Kurt Nolte said in a statement.

Hernandez arrived in the U.S. as part of a caravan of Central American asylum seekers and was taken into custody in San Diego.

She was later transferred to El Paso, Texas, before being taken to the Cibola County Detention Center in New Mexico.

Hernandez died in May at an Albuquerque hospital where she was admitted after showing symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV.

Her death brought protests, with immigrant and LGBTQ advocates saying her case underscored concerns that transgender migrants in detention facilities often do not receive adequate medical care.

In November, an attorney representing the family of Hernandez released an independent autopsy that noted deep bruising along Hernandez’s ribs that wasn’t evident externally.

The independent autopsy also concluded she had contusions on her back and injuries around her wrists that were likely caused by handcuffs.

State investigators noted in the findings made public Tuesday that they don’t believe tissue bleeding over the sides and back of her chest came from physical abuse and was likely from a low platelet count and the physical force from CPR.

The autopsy also noted numerous other symptoms associated with the immune disorder as well as a small head injury that was discovered during a CT scan. The origin of the injury was listed as unknown.

Advocates and an attorney for Hernandez’s family criticized the findings, describing the investigation as incomplete. They also renewed their calls for immigration authorities to be held accountable for Hernandez’s death.


Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at

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