Transgender woman from El Salvador dies after release from ICE custody – Washington Blade


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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed Johana ‘Joa’ Medina Leon, a transgender woman from El Salvador who had previously been in ICE custody, died on June 1, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A transgender woman from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody died on Saturday.

An ICE press release says Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, who was identified by her birth name, passed away at a hospital in El Paso, Texas.

The press
release says Medina, 25, “illegally” entered the U.S. at the Paso del
Norte Port of Entry between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on April 11.

ICE notes
Medina “was processed as an expedited removal when she applied for
admission to enter the United States.” The press release says Medina
entered ICE custody on April 14.

The press
release noted Media on May 18 “received a positive credible fear
finding” and four days later “was issued a notice to appear
before” an immigration judge.

ICE says Medina on May 28 requested an HIV test and tested positive. The press release notes she was “transported” to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso on the same day after “she complained of chest pains.”

“That same day, her case was reviewed and she was processed for release on parole,” says ICE.

Medina had been held at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., which is roughly 30 miles north of El Paso, before her release.

An ICE spokesperson on Monday told the Washington Blade that Medina was not in the agency’s custody when she died. Corey A Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in El Paso, in the press release described Medina’s death as “yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition.”

“There is a crisis
at our southern border with a mass influx of aliens lured by the lies of human
smugglers who profit without regard for human life or well-being,” he
said. “Many of these aliens attempt to enter the United States with
untreated or unknown diseases, which are not diagnosed until they are examined
while in detention.”

Medina died roughly a
year after Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV, died at a
New Mexico hospital while in ICE custody.

New Mexico officials in
April said
an autopsy they performed on Hernández found she died from Castleman disease
associated with AIDS. The results of a second autopsy the Transgender Law
Center released late last year concluded
Hernández was beaten before her death.

Hernández entered U.S.
Customs and Border Protection custody on May 9, 2018, when she asked for asylum
at the San Ysidro Port of Entry south of San Diego. She was then transferred to
the Cibola County Correctional Center in Grants, N.M., which has a unit for
trans detainees.

The Transgender Law
Center on May 31 filed a lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland
Security for “illegally withholding information about” Hernández’s

“A few days after marking the anniversary of Roxsana Hernández’s death, we are devastated and outraged by reports that Johana Medina, a transgender woman and refugee from El Salvador, has died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody,” said the Transgender Law Center in a press release.

Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, the openly gay deputy assistant director of ICE ERO Custody Programs, told the Blade late last year a 2015 memorandum directs ICE personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms, establishes guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for them and requires detention facilities to provide access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care. The Transgender Law Center and other advocacy groups nevertheless remain highly critical of ICE over the treatment of trans people in their custody and the Trump administration’s overall immigration policy.

for Roxsana means justice for Johana,” said the Transgender Law
Center in its press release. “Justice for Johana
and Roxsana means an end to the conditions that killed them,
conditions that transgender people in migrant prisons across the country
continue to endure.”  

“Today, we mourn Johana, and renew our pledge to seek justice for her, for Roxsana, and for all black and brown trans women detained in migrant prisons,” added the advocacy group. 

The Washington Blade will provide additional updates as they become available.