Two more migrants die in US custody after crossing Mexico border

Two more migrants, a Salvadoran man and a woman from Honduras, died recently while in federal immigration custody, marking at least seven migrant deaths since October and raising concerns of how federal agents care for those in their custody.

U.S. authorities announced the death of the 40-year-old Honduran woman who crossed into the U.S. without documentation early Monday in Eagle Pass, Texas. The woman collapsed at a Border Patrol station and later died at a local hospital, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol. CBP has not released her name pending notification of her family.

In another case, a 33-year-old Salvadoran man died on Sunday near Roma, Texas, after suffering a seizure while in CBP custody. The agency is also withholding his name pending notification of his family.

These deaths come on the heels of the death of Johana Medina Leon, 25, a transgender asylum-seeker from El Salvador, whose passing Saturday at an El Paso hospital rekindled fears that transgender migrants are being mistreated at federal holding facilities. 

Medina Leon had asked for asylum at a border crossing in April and was detained at a detention facility in Chaparral, New Mexico. She was taken to an El Paso hospital after complaining of chest pains and later died at the facility. She had been released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Last week, Medina Leon had requested an HIV test, which came back positive, according to ICE. 

“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” Corey A. Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations 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,” he said. “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.”

Medina Leon’s death comes days after the one-year anniversary of the death of Roxsana Hernandez, 33, a transgender woman from Honduras who died on May 25, 2018, while in ICE custody. Her death was attributed to a rare disorder that developed quickly due to AIDS and sparked protests and calls for an investigation.

Gabriela Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Dream Team, holds up an image Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Albuquerque, N.M, of a Honduran transgender woman who died while in U.S. custody. Immigrant and LGBT advocates gathered outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Albuquerque to protest migrant Roxsana Hernandez's death, which authorities say came after she developed symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV. (AP Photo/Mary Hudetz). ORG XMIT: RPMH301 (Photo: Mary Hudetz, AP)

The Transgender Law Center, an Oakland-based advocacy group, filed suit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security alleging mistreatment and that the agencies withheld information about Hernandez’s death, allegations ICE denies.

“A few days after marking the anniversary of Roxsana Hernandez’s death, we are devastated and outraged by reports that Johana Medina, a transgender woman and refugee from El Salvador, has died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody,” Kris Hayashi, the center’s executive director said in a statement.

ICE has faced scrutiny for its detainee health care for years. The agency has reported five in-custody deaths since October.

But ICE officials say the agency is committed to providing medical care to everyone in its custody. It says it spends $250 million each year on health care for detainees, including medical, dental and mental health intake screenings within 12 hours of arrival and round-the-clock emergency care.

Still, migrant advocates say federal agencies are not doing enough to treat and protect at-risk immigrants in their custody. 

In March, the ACLU of New Mexico issued a letter calling for an investigation into allegations that transgender women and gay men fleeing persecution were met with abuse and degrading treatment at the same New Mexico facility where Medina Leon had been held.

The letter complained about rampant sexual harassment, medical neglect and retaliation from guards and medical staff.

Contributing: Associated Press and Daniel Borunda, El Paso Times.

Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.

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