Transgender Asylum Seeker and ICE Detainee Dies From Illness | National Center for Transgender Equality

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Gillian Branstetter, Media Relations Manager
June 3, 2019

Transgender Asylum Seeker and ICE Detainee Dies From Illness

One year after the death of Roxsana Hernandez, another transgender asylum seeker has died in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

According to news reports and Central American transgender advocates at Diversidad Sin Fronteras, 25-year-old Johana Medina entered the United States seeking asylum in April and was detained by ICE. Six weeks later on May 28,  Joanna tested positive for HIV and, reporting chest pains, was admitted to a hospital. While in the hospital, ICE granted her parole, but died there on Saturday, June 1, the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month. 

More than two dozen adults and six children have died in the U.S. immigration custody since 2017. While public statements from ICE emphasize that she was technically not in their custody at the moment of her death, she arrived at the hospital an ICE detainee and would never leave alive.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, gave the following statement:

“Johana’s death is a yet another inhumane failure by ICE to treat those in its custody with even a modicum of care, humanity, or dignity. The high rates of abuse and neglect endured by women like Johana and Roxsana are an unconscionable and immoral way for the richest country on Earth to treat people fleeing horrific persecution and seeking our help. It is increasingly clear the inhumanity of ICE as an agency is only fueled by the racist disdain throughout the Trump administration for the very lives we have a legal and moral duty to protect. We stand with Johana’s family and the advocates in Central America and the United States working to hold this administration accountable.”

Transgender migrants held by ICE report high levels of physical and sexual abuse as well as inadequate food and a lack of access to basic medical care. According to data released by the agency to Rep. Kathleen Rice, transgender people only make up 0.1% of the detainee population, yet 12% of sexual assaults reported to the agency come from transgender detainees.

A recent report by The Intercept also found transgender detainees were frequently exposed to prolonged stays in solitary confinement, often surpassing the 15 days deemed torturous by the United Nations. 

Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender migrant from Honduras, passed away last year on May 25 due to similar complications from HIV reported by Johana. An independent autopsy found symptoms of physical abuse on Roxsana’s body, and the Transgender Law Center has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the agency on behalf of Roxsana’s family. On Friday, TLC filed a separate lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for illegally withholding information about the death of Roxsana Hernandez.

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