Johana Medina Leon, 25, a transgender woman who came to the U.S. seeking asylum has died after being held in custody by ICE for a period of six weeks.
Medina Leon, known as Joa to her friends, came to the United States from El Salvador. She waited three months in Juarez, Mexico before she was given permission to be in the U.S. She came to the U.S. to seek asylum to escape violence as a transgender woman.
She was held in ICE custody from mid-April until May 18. She reportedly complained of chest pains and was brought to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. That same day, ICE said she was processed for release on parole. Medina Leon died on the first day of pride month.
“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” said Corey A. Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in El Paso.
Allegra Love, the executive director of the Sante Fe Dreamers Project, a nonprofit that provides free legal service to immigrants, said Medina Leon did nothing “illegal” when she entered the U.S. She followed all of the U.S following the Department of Homeland Security protocol
“She didn’t violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum,” Love said.
In a Facebook post about Medina Leon’s death, Diversidad Sin Fronteras, an advocacy group for LGBTQ refugees, said that Medina Leon had pleaded to ICE for medical attention. She “became extremely ill and unconscious,” the group said. Adding that she had been denied medication and when she was finally taken to a hospital in late May she was “extremely ill and unconscious.”
She was in hospital for four days and passed away on Saturday.
“She presented legally, she traveled with her best friend, another trans woman, she was not “smuggled.” She complained from having pain weeks before she was taken to the hospital. Has Corey A. Price even reviewed the case before commenting?” the advocacy group posted to Facebook.
“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally 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. “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,” the advocacy group added.
She was being held in the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico. The center came under fire earlier this year when the ACLU accused the facility of having inhumane conditions for LGBTQ asylum seekers.
Among the accusations the center was accused of putting LGBTQ people in solitary confinement, denying trans women medical care, and housing trans women with straight men. Guards were accused of offering to shower with trans woman, and a gay man said that he was forced to perform sexual favors in exchange for food.
A spokesperson for Otero, which is run by a private corporation, said that they were “not aware of any incidents at the facility.”
“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” a spokesperson for the ICE said of Medina Leon’s death.
Activists, though, dispute the claim that she entered the U.S. illegally.
“She was loved by all of her family including her grandma the main reason for her to travel thousands of miles to be detained in inhumane conditions. She was unable to practice her nursing profession as an open trans woman so her dream was to come to the US to get certified and make a living healing people,” her friend OJ Pitaya shared on
“She didn’t violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum,” said Allegra Love of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project.
“The death of Johana Medina, a transgender woman of color and asylum seeker, just hours after being released from ICE custody, is yet another horrific and deeply disturbing development in the ongoing crisis of anti-LGBTQ actions by immigration authorities,” HRC’s David Stacy said in a statement.
“This follows the still-unexplained death of Roxsana Hernandez and numerous reports of mistreatment of LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers while in custody of CBP and ICE. It is critical that every person is treated with safety, dignity, and respect by immigration authorities, and this latest tragedy demands greater transparency and accountability of these agencies.”
Medina Leon’s death comes almost exactly one year after Roxsana Hernandez, 33, a transgender migrant from Honduras, died of AIDS complications in ICE custody.