Johana Medina Leon, a transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador, died Saturday after being held for six weeks at a private Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in New Mexico that has previously faced allegations of abusing LGBTQ+ detainees.
Leon, 25, was taken into custody on April 11 after voluntarily presenting herself and requesting asylum at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in Texas. In mid-May, she passed her "credible fear" interview, which determined she would be persecuted if she returned to El Salvador. However, Leon wasn’t paroled until Tuesday, when she began complaining of chest pains and was taken to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, TX. She passed away Saturday, the first day of Pride Month.
Leon’s death comes a year after another transgender detainee named Roxsana Hernandez died from dehydration and complications from HIV, and amid increased scrutiny over conditions in immigrant detention centers following the deaths of six migrant children in the span of eight months.
In a statement, Corey Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in El Paso, took no responsibility for Leon’s death — instead seemingly blaming her for being HIV-positive. "This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition," Price said. "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 wellbeing. 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."
In March, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project alleged that LGBTQ+ detainees were routinely harassed, discriminated against, and abused at the Otero County Processing Center, the same private detention center where Leon was held. Detainees said they faced sexual harassment and abuse from guards and other detainees alike. They also alleged medical treatment for transgender detainees was inadequate, with staff denying them hormone therapy or making them wait weeks to receive care. According to their attorneys, those detainees who complained about how they were being treated were placed in solitary confinement.
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