A trans woman died in ICE custody on the first day of Pride Month, advocates report

Johana Medina needed medical attention for complications stemming from HIV/AIDS.

Johana Medina (Credit: Diversidad Sin Fronteras)

Johana Medina, a 25-year-old transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador, died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody on June 1 — the first day of Pride Month — advocates said Sunday.

Johana is the second transgender immigrant to die in ICE custody since President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Medina’s death was first reported by Diversidad Sin Fronteras, an activist group focused on helping LGBTQ migrants and refugees.

Grecia, a trans leader with Casa Migrante in Juarez, Mexico, accompanied Medina on her journey to the United States and stayed with her until the end. In a statement, she described how Medina had continuously asked for medical attention for health complications stemming from HIV/AIDS. She failed to receive proper care for two months until she became unconscious and was eventually transferred to a hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she passed away Saturday.

Her name was Johana Medina, known to her friends as Joa. She was in ICE detention for two months in a New Mexico facility. For weeks she pleaded for medical help, referring to health problems caused by complications with HIV/AIDS. After two months of suffering, Joana became extremely ill and unconscious forcing ICE to take her to Las Palmas del Sol Hospital in El Paso, Texas. This morning I went to visit her at the hospital intensive care unit. 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. Unfortunately today at 21:00 hrs I got called by the hospital to tell me that she had passed away…

Medina was first apprehended by U.S. immigration officials on April 11 at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry and on April 14 she was transferred into ICE custody. On May 18, asylum officers found her to have a credible fear of returning to El Salvador and a few days later, received her notice to appear before a U.S. immigration judge. The following week Medina requested to be tested for HIV and tested positive. That same day, on May 28, she complained of chest pains and was transported to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso where she was processed for release on parole.


In a statement to ThinkProgress on June 3, ICE officials claim Medina’s death is emblematic of the “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“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 said in a statement. “There is a crisis at our southern border with a mass influx of aliens lured by the lies of human smugglers who profit without regard for human life or well-being. 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.”

Over a year ago, a transgender woman from Honduras named Roxsana Hernandez died in ICE custody from complications related to HIV. Her death laid bare how poorly the immigrant detention system treats transgender migrants and asylum seekers in particular.

After Hernandez presented herself to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) once she arrived in the United States, she was held in a freezing cold cell where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. These facilities only provide emergency medical care and are only are only designed for temporary stays totaling three days or less. Hernandez was there for almost a week. She was then transferred to three ICE facilities in three days. Because ICE only requires medical screenings to be conducted no later than 12 hours after arrival, Hernandez didn’t see a nurse until eight days after she entered the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Once the facility was made aware Hernandez had HIV, she was only treated for her dehydration, starvation, and fever. A week later, on March 25, 2018, she passed away at a New Mexico hospital. Her autopsy from the state of New Mexico deadnamed her — using her birth name instead of the name she chose for herself. According to her autopsy, which was not released until a year after her death, she had 10 heart attacks between May 24 and May 25.

This story has been updated to include a statement from ICE.