A transgender woman from El Salvador seeking asylum in the U.S. died on Saturday in a Texas hospital four days after being released from custody, officials and advocates said.
Johana Medina Leon, 25, complained of chest pains and was brought to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. 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 fled to the U.S following Department of Homeland Security protocol
“She didn’t violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum,” Love said.
Medina Leon, who was known to friends as Joa, had been detained in the U.S. since mid-April. On May 18, Medina Leon received a positive credible fear finding, ICE said. Advocates told NBC News Leon was seeking asylum in the U.S. as a transgender woman.
Medina Leon was being held at Otero County Processing Center, a private detention center in New Mexico where the ACLU and the Santa Fe Dreamer Project recently alleged poor treatment of and “unconscionable conditions” for LGBTQ immigrants. In a letter sent to ICE, the groups said “ICE’s practices at Otero have created an unsafe environment” for the LGBTQ detainees in Otero.
Medina Leon fell while in ICE Custody, where she also tested positive for HIV.
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.
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.
Kris Hayashi, the executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said in a statement the group is “devastated and outraged, but not surprised” by the news of Leon’s death.
Referring to the deaths of both Hernandez and Medina Leon, Hayashi wrote, “these deaths are a direct result of U.S. government policy, and will continue unless we force dramatic change.”
In the wake of Hernandez’s death in ICE custody, activists and advocates have been sounding alarms on the treatment of LGBTQ migrants in ICE Custody.
On Friday, the Transgender Law Center filed a lawsuit against DHS and ICE suit “for illegally withholding information” about Hernandez’s death, and a NBC News investigation found that immigrants are often forced into solitary confinement in U.S. detention centers for being LGBTQ.
When a spokesperson for Diversidad Sin Fronteras visited Medina Leon in the hospital, she said we was deeply cornered about the young women’s fate. “I said that what happened a year ago to Roxana in the month of May could happen to JOA right in there. And it did.”
Love, of Sante Fe Dreamers Project, told NBC News, “I give an interview a week about the medical conditions for trans women,” which she described as alarming and dangerous.
“If anyone wants to pretend to be shocked, did you miss a year ago when a trans woman died in custody in Albuquerque?”