Colman Domingo
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A Trans Asylum Seeker Died in ICE Custody on First Day of Pride

Johana Medina

Johana Medina, a trans asylum seeker from El Salvador who fled to the U.S. border, has died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

She is the second trans woman to die in ICE custody since President Donald Trump has taken office. 

Diversidad Sin Fronteras (Diversity Without Borders), a human rights group advocating on behalf of Central and South American LGBTQ refugees, announced the death June 1, which marks the first day of Pride Month. 

“We regret to inform the community that ICE has taken one more of our sisters," the group posted on their Facebook. “Rest in Power Joa.”

OJ Pitaya, an activist with Diversidad Sin Fronteras, reports Medina waited nearly three months in Juarez, Mexico, for the opportunity to present her legal case for asylum in the United States. Those close to Medina report that she got to make that case to Customs and Border Patrol in early April, but was told she was not transgender.

“According to testimonies from her boyfriend and other trans women present: ‘she was told she was not trans,’ that ‘she was a man.’ Unlike her other comrades, she was not paroled out but sent to Otero County Processing Center.”

Around May 21, Medina called her boyfriend in El Salvador and said her health was failing, Pitaya reports.

In the following days, her health deteriorated, according to Pitaya, but she was denied intravenous medication. She was ultimately released unconscious to a hospital around May 25. On June 1, Media reportedly died at Las Palmas del Sol hospital.

“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,” Pitaya wrote. “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.”

The organization is waiting for other hospital records.

Roxsana Hernandez, another trans woman seeking asylum, died in a New Mexico facility in May 2018.  An autopsy funded by the Transgender Law Center concluded Hernandez died of dehydration and physical abuse.

But the New Mexico Medical Investigator’s Office later said she died of complications from HIV.

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