Yet another HIV-positive transgender woman seeking asylum has died after a stint in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, infuriating advocates and raising more questions about the US government’s treatment of marginalized people in detention.
Johana “Joa” Medina, a 25 year-old woman from El Salvador, died on June 1, four days after she was paroled by ICE. Medina was still in ICE custody when she was hospitalized on May 28 after suffering from chest pains. ICE released her on parole later that same day and she died before ever leaving the hospital.
Medina first presented to ICE on April 11 and was transferred into the agency’s custody on April 14, according to an agency spokesperson. On May 18 she passed a “credible fear” interview and four days later she was issued a notice to appear before a US immigration judge.
On May 28, Medina was transferred to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, with chest pains. She asked for an HIV test that same day and tested positive.
ICE did not provide further details regarding the treatment of Medina in the following days or about the deterioration of her health. Instead, a spokesperson issued a Trump-like statement about the southern border, “deadnamed” her, and tried to distance the agency any responsibility for Medina’s death.
“This is yet another unfortunate example of an alien who enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” Corey A. Price, the field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in El Paso, said in a written statement. “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. 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.”
Despite Price’s statement, there is no indication that Medina was “lured by the lies of human smugglers.” ICE did not respond to questions about why Medina was seeking asylum. Many transgender women who seek asylum in the United States are fleeing anti-LGBTQ conditions in their home countries.
Medina’s death came almost exactly one year after another HIV-positive transgender woman, Roxsana Hernandez, died in ICE custody while seeking asylum. An autopsy on Hernandez revealed signs of abuse. The Transgender Law Center, which is suing ICE for refusing to provide information about the death of Hernandez, issued a statement about Medina through Kris Hayashi, the organization’s executive director.
“Devastated and outraged, but not surprised,” Hayashi said. “ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and all the agencies and companies responsible for Roxsana’s death have only grown bolder in their cruelty, inhumanity, and lawlessness. These deaths are a direct result of US government policy, and will continue unless we force dramatic change.”
Aaron C. Morris, who is the executive director of Immigration Equality, said his organization is calling for the release of all LGBTQ and HIV-positive people in custody.
“Johana Medina lost her life due to extreme neglect by the US government,” he said. “ICE must immediately address the inadequate medical care it subjects LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugees to. We condemn this pattern of abuse against transgender women in their custody.”