Transgender asylum seeker dies after release from US custody

Published 7:05 pm Monday, June 3, 2019

EL PASO — A transgender asylum seeker has died just days after being released from a U.S. immigration detention center where advocates say detainees are mistreated.

They say the death is another example of poor care and treatment that transgender detainees get in custody. The death of Johana Medina Leon, 25, follows that of Roxsanna Hernandez, a 33-year-old Honduran transgender woman, whose 2018 in-custody death sparked protests and calls for an investigation. Hernandez died of a rare disorder that developed quickly because of AIDS, according to an autopsy released in April.

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and ACLU of New Mexico have written to several government officials asking them to address the issue.

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“Johana’s tragic death underscores the senselessness and cruelty of the current administration’s detention policies for migrants and asylum seekers,” Kristin Greer Love, a staff attorney at ACLU of New Mexico, said in a statement.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said in a statement that Medina Leon was from El Salvador and died Saturday at an El Paso hospital.

The cause of death isn’t known.

Medina Leon asked for asylum at a border crossing on April 11 and was detained in a private detention facility in Chaparral, New Mexico, where advocacy groups say transgender and gay detainees receive poor medical care and are subjected to abuse.

On May 18, an asylum officer determined she had a credible fear of returning to her country, which is one of the first steps in the often years-long process. Transgender people in El Salvador regularly experience discrimination by police and military in their home country, according to a 2017 study by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute.

Ten days later, Medina Leon complained of chest pain and was sent to an El Paso hospital. ICE released her from custody that day.

“This is yet another unfortunate example of an alien who enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” said Corey A. Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement. Price is based in El Paso.

ICE has faced scrutiny for its detainee health care for years. The agency has reported five in-custody deaths since October.

But ICE says it is committed to providing medical care to everyone in its custody. It says it spends $250 million each year on health care for detainees, including medical, dental and mental health intake screenings within 12 hours of arrival and round-the-clock emergency care.


See also: TEXAS ROUNDUP — Body of trans woman pulled from Dallas lake