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Lawmakers urge release of illegal transgender immigrants after transgender woman dies

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An illegal transgender immigrant died at a New Mexico hospital while in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Guillermo Arias/Getty Images)

Nearly 40 members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen urging the release of transgender illegal immigrants after a transgender woman died while in the custody of ICE, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), along with 38 other members of Congress signed the letter that expressed concern for the safety of those who may be targets of abuse while detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"These individuals, particularly transgender women, are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody," the letter said.

Roxana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transgender woman, who was part of the Central American migrant caravan, died Friday at a New Mexico hospital. The cause of death is yet unknown.

The letter asked the federal agency to act swiftly to ensure the safety of LGBT detainees throughout their immigration proceedings.

What did LGBT advocates say?

California-based Transgender Law Center issued a statement demanding Homeland Security to adopt a policy against detaining transgender people and for DHS to parole all LGBTQ illegal immigrants, as well as those with life-threatening medical conditions.

The group also demanded officials "defund and dismantle ICE and Customs and Border Protection."

Other national LGBTQ groups issued statements, as well.

"Immigration and Customs Enforcement clearly cannot detain transgender women safely, and therefore should not detain transgender women at all," Aaron C. Morris, executive director of New York-based Immigration Equality, said in a statement.

What happened?

On May 9, Hernandez arrived at San Ysidro port of entry in California and asked for asylum, according to the caravan organizers.

ICE took custody of the Honduran immigrant on May 13.

Hernandez, who was listed as Jeffry Hernandez when taken into custody in San Diego, was transferred to El Paso, Texas, and later moved to a transgender unit in New Mexico.

Officials admitted Hernandez to a hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 17 after she showed signs of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications of HIV.

Hernandez died on May 25.

Officials are awaiting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Why do they believe ICE is at fault?

The Congress members who signed the letter, along with some advocates, have questioned the medical care and treatment of transgender detainees while in federal custody.

All detainees receive dental, medical, and mental health screenings within 12 hours of arrival at a detention center, and emergency care is available around the clock, according to ICE.

What else?

Hernadez had entered the U.S. illegally on three other occasions.

Twice between 2005 and 2009, when she was allowed to return to Mexico voluntarily after claiming to be a Mexican national.

In 2006, Hernandez was convicted of theft and prostitution. Three years later, she was convicted on other charges, the AP reported.

Later, in 2014, Hernandez illegally entered again. She was arrested and deported, according to authorities.

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