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News > U.S.

Trans Asylum-Seeker Dies After Being Denied Healthcare by ICE

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 June 2019

Johana Medina, 25, passed away at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, after complaining of "chest pains" early last week and not receiving immediate attention. 

Asylum-seeker Johana Medina Leon from El Salvador, died Saturday due to complications related to HIV/AIDS after spending six weeks at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in New Mexico, where she asked, in vain, repeatedly for treatment, according to her lawyer.

Record Number of Cubans in ICE Detention Centers

"For weeks she pleaded for medical help, referring to health problems caused by complications with HIV/AIDS," Grecia, a transgender advocate and leader of the Casa Migrante en Juarez rights group said.

She was detained after presenting herself voluntarily on April 11 as an asylum seeker, arguing her life was in danger in her home country. Authorities agreed she had "credible fear" for her life, but she was not paroled until Tuesday. 

"This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition," Corey Price, field office director for ICE Operations in El Paso, said in a statement. 

One year ago, Roxana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transwoman from Honduras, also died after she was held in ICE detention facilities - notorious for its freezing temperatures - due to HIV-related complications, including pneumonia and dehydration.

Last Thursday, a group of detained asylum seekers sued the U.S. government, saying immigration officials in five southern states are systematically denying them parole.

In the second lawsuit of its kind filed against the Trump administration, legal advocacy groups representing 12 plaintiffs are seeking class-action status on behalf of hundreds of asylum seekers being held in detention centers in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Migrants who arrive at U.S. ports of entry and ask for refuge in the U.S. are not eligible for bond hearings in front of a judge, but they can be released from detention on parole for humanitarian reasons under a 2009 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, claims that in recent months there has been an "unwritten policy and practice of categorically denying parole to asylum seekers" that violates the government's "own directive and guidelines."

According to ICE data cited in the complaint, the New Orleans Field Office - which oversees the five states - granted parole in 76 percent of cases in 2016, but just 22 percent in 2017. In 2018, parole was granted in just two of the 130 cases in which ICE made a determination, the complaint reads.

One plaintiff in the lawsuit is a transgender woman who sought asylum in El Paso, Texas, in January and has been detained since. During months in ICE custody, the suit alleges, she said she was periodically held in isolation and has yet to receive an interview to be considered for release.

A separate lawsuit filed in March 2018 made similar claims about ICE field offices in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, El Paso, and Newark. Last July, a federal judge ordered ICE to follow its own policy and grant parole to asylum seekers who are not a flight risk or a danger to the community in those jurisdictions.

The Justice Department declined to comment. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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