Trans Woman With HIV Dies During Release From ICE Custody After Being Denied Meds

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An HIV-positive trans woman asylum seeker from El Salvador died during the process of being released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody on June 1 after being denied HIV medication, ThinkProgress reports. She was 25 years old.

Diversidad Sin Fronteras, an activist group that helps LGBTI migrants and refugees, first reported Johana Medina's death. According to a statement from Grecia, a trans leader with Casa del Migrante in Mexico, who had traveled with Medina and visited her in the hospital, "For weeks she pleaded for medical help, referring to health problems caused by complications with HIV/AIDS. … Johana became extremely ill and unconscious forcing ICE to take her to Las Palmas del Sol Hospital in El Paso, Texas."

Medina was first apprehended by immigration officials on April 11 and was transferred to ICE on April 14. She was not tested for HIV until May 28 and, on that same day, she said she was having chest pains. She was transported to the hospital, where she died. According to The Washington Post, her fear of persecution if she returned to El Salvador was determined to be credible on May 18, but ICE did not release her from custody until she was dying in the hospital.

Johana Medina
Johana Medina

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

Allegra Love, executive director of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, told NBC News that Medina followed Department of Homeland Security protocol for seeking asylum and did nothing illegal.

"She didn't violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum," Love said. Medina was seeking asylum in the U.S. because of a credible fear of persecution in her home country because she was trans.

In a tweet, New Mexico representative Deb Haaland said that "ICE is not prepared to manage the health care needs of those seeking to use their legal right to asylum." She added, "Improper health care & a record of mistreatment of trans individuals took Johana Medina's life."

News organizations and immigration policy experts have debunked the idea that there is a "crisis" at the U.S. border, and that the Trump Administration's policies of denying migrants due process, separating families and detaining massive numbers of migrants has helped exacerbate the crisis. Furthermore, in 2017 Treatment Action Group called out the Trump Administration's fearmongering about the unsubstantiated threat of infectious disease spread by immigrants, writing, "the continued unchecked proliferation of anti-immigrant messaging could allow for the use of discriminatory immigration policy as a 'public health' strategy."

Medina is at least] the second trans woman to reach her deathbed in ICE custodyunder the Trump administration. A Honduran trans woman named Roxsana Hernández was also HIV positive and died of complications related to her AIDS diagnosis. Hernández died in May 2018.

Though ICE knew about her HIV status, and ICE is required to provide HIV-positive detainees with the standard of care -- immediate antiretroviral treatment -- Hernández was not treated for her HIV.