Transgender asylum seeker’s health had been deteriorating, volunteer says

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LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — The transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador who died at a hospital days after being released from ICE custody had been experiencing health problems before her death, says a volunteer who visits the Otero County Processing Center.​

Johana Medina Leon, 25, died Saturday at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, where she had been taken last Tuesday after complaining of chest pains, the Associated Press reported. Her cause of death hasn’t been determined.​

Medina Leon crossed the border into the United States on April 11 seeking asylum, and was later determined to have a credible fear of returning to her country, one of the first steps for moving forward in the asylum process.​

She was placed with other transgender women at the Otero County Processing Center. The small group of trans women didn’t take well to the food served at the facility and suffered from colds, according to a frequent visitor to the facility.​

“In late April, they had serious concerns about the food. On May 3, the three women had colds at that point. The person I was speaking to was complaining that medical was very slow to respond,” said Nathan Craig, a volunteer from Advocate Visitors with Immigration Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert.​

“Joa (Medina Leon) was particularly concerned about the food, and the fact that she was losing weight and her health was generally deteriorating came up again on the 24th (of May). By the 27th, I was told she was taken to medical,” said Craig. ​

He said Medina Leon on that day had requested an HIV test, which came back positive.​

In a statement quoted by The Washington Post, ICE field office director for Enforcement and Removal Oeprations (ERO) Corey A. Price, said that Medina Leon’s case “is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition.​

“…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.”​

However, Craig said the health concerns expressed earlier by the women could’ve been investigated further by medical personnel at the facility.​ In other words, they could’ve offered the option of having an HIV screening.

“Every individual is supposed to get comprehensive medical screening within 48 hours of being in the facility. HIV is a life-threatening disease and it runs in high proportions in certain populations. To me, that (an HIV screening) would seem to be a very reasonable thing to do,” he said.​

“A couple of rounds of colds in a very short time give me concern, and that wasn’t picked up in medical screenings. Nobody looked into this particular issue during medical screenings given the fact that trans women from Central America are likely to be in a high-risk population for HIV.”​

Craig also expressed concern that the other transgender women at the facility receive the health care they need.​

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