A transgender woman who had been in U.S. immigration custody since April died June 1 after being hospitalized for chest pain four days earlier, U.S. officials confirmed to VOA on Monday, after social media posts and reports emerged following her death.
Immigration officials first encountered Johana Medina Leon of El Salvador on April 11 at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in Texas, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The 25-year-old was denied entry and processed as an "expedited removal" — a streamlined deportation process — when she applied for admission to enter the country at the port of entry, the agency described in a statement sent to VOA.
Medina Leon was slated for immediate removal to her native El Salvador, but received a positive credible fear finding on May 18, ICE said — one of the first steps in applying for asylum.
Ten days later, she requested an HIV test; it was positive. Complaining of chest pains, she was taken to an El Paso hospital the same day. She died June 1.
Though ICE did not provide an official cause of death for Medina Leon, the agency's statement implies that underlying health issues were the cause.
The agency also refers to her as a "former" ICE detainee, on the grounds that the same day she was hospitalized, "her case was reviewed and she was processed for release on parole."
"This is yet another unfortunate example of an alien who 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. "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."
It is unclear which, if any, of Medina Leon's health issues were noted by detention center health officials during the six weeks she was in ICE custody.
Questions to ICE about the timing of her release from custody and her hospitalization were not immediately answered Monday.
Grecia, a trans activist in Juarez, posted on the Facebook page for Diversidad Sin Fronteras (Diversity Without Borders), an advocacy group for LGBTQ refugees, on Saturday that Medina Leon "pleaded for medical help" for weeks before her death.
"Her name was Johana Medina, known to her friends as Joa," wrote Grecia, who said she visited Medina Leon at the El Paso hospital hours before she died.
Held at a New Mexico detention facility, "for weeks she pleaded for medical help, referring to her continuous health problems," Grecia alleged.
In the intensive care unit Saturday, the activist feared for Medina Leon.
"When I looked at her 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," wrote Grecia, referring to Roxsana Hernandez, a trans woman who died in ICE custody last year. An autopsy released in April attributed her death to an AIDS-related illness.
U.S. immigration and border agencies are under intense scrutiny for the treatment and health care provided to people who are detained, in particular those who are more vulnerable — among them children and the LGBTQ community.
Last month, officials quarantined a detention facility near the border and temporarily stopped admitting new people after a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died of the flu.
In a separate incident over the weekend, a Salvadoran man in U.S. border custody died Sunday within an hour of being detained, after having what U.S. officials described as a seizure.
A 33-year-old man detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents suffered the seizure within 15 minutes of being detained with a group of other unauthorized border crossers on June 2 near Roma, Texas, CBP announced Monday.
The agents provided medical care until emergency medical personnel arrived, according to the agency.
The man, whose name was not released by CBP, was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead that afternoon, the agency said.