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HIV Positive Transgender Migrant Dies Shortly After Weeks in ICE Custody

by Sam Cronin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 3, 2019

El Salvadorian transgender woman Johana Medina Leon, 25, died in a medical facility in Texas Saturday, four days after being released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. She had fallen ill in custody, where she had also been tested for and diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. She was taken to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso and died four days later due to complications from her illness.

Leon had entered the United States seeking asylum as a transgender woman. She had presented herself to the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso in April and was held at the Otero County Processing Center in southern New Mexico. Six weeks later, ICE confirmed that she faced a credible fear of persecution if returned to El Salvador, according to The Washington Post. She was then discharged the same day she was taken to the medical center.

Corey A. Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in El Paso, said that this was "yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition," according to NBC News.

In response, Allegra Love, the executive director of the Sante Fe Dreamers Project, a nonprofit immigrant legal service, said: "She didn't violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum."

Many advocacy groups have railed against the treatment of migrants in ICE custody, and especially the treatment of those in the LGBTQ community. The agency has faced serious criticism from both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID). ICE is also facing a lawsuit from the Transgender Law Center alleging that improper care led to the death of another transgender detainee, Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, in 2018.

The ACLU sent a letter to ICE and Department of Homeland Security officials in March, condemning the conditions in which LGBTQ migrants are kept while in custody. Addressing the warden of the Otero detention center, the letter said: "We start with this premise: the safest place for all people, and particularly for vulnerable people, is to be with their communities and families, not in detention. But when the government detains a person, it has a legal obligation to ensure that the person is safe. Otero and ICE must ensure the safety of transgender women and gay men, accounting for their particular vulnerabilities..." The letter then goes on to propose changes to ICE procedures to ensure better conditions for LGBTQ migrants.

AVID representative Nathan Craig had been in contact with the four transgender detainees in Otero before Leon's death, and told the Washington Post that all four were sick and not given adequate medical treatment. According to Craig, "others had requested that she [Leon] be given intravenous fluids but that staff said they couldn't administer that kind of treatment."

ICE officials have not responded to the specific allegations of mistreatment outlined in the ACLU letter, but have said "ICE is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure and human environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement," according to the Washington Post.

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