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Mother of trans Salvadoran woman who died after leaving ICE custody demands answers



Patricia Medina de Barrientos on July 24, 2019, looks at a picture on her cell phone of her child, Johana Medina León, a transgender woman who died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. Medina de Barrientos spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The mother of a transgender woman from El Salvador who died last month shortly after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from its custody said she was a “respectful, educated person.”

“She always watched out for other people,” Patricia Medina de Barrientos told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an exclusive interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador. “[She was] very happy, respectful, always helping other people … she had many goals, dreams.”

Johana “Joa” Medina León passed away at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, on June 1.

Medina, 25, worked as a private nurse in El Salvador. Her mother, who cried at several points during the interview, said Medina left the country on Jan. 13 because she had been attacked and threatened because she was trans.

“She decided to leave because she wanted to be a free person,” said Medina de Barrientos.

Johana Medina León was a private nurse in her native El Salvador before she migrated to the U.S. in January. Medina, who was transgender, died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

Medina de Barrientos said Medina entered Mexico and received a humanitarian visa that allowed her to legally travel in the country. Medina made her way to Ciudad Juárez, a city that is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, and stayed at a shelter for LGBTI migrants run by Respetttrans Chihuahua, a local advocacy group.

ICE in a press release it released after Medina died said she “illegally” entered the U.S. at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on April 11.

Medina de Barrientos confirmed Medina arrived in the U.S. on that day. ICE in its press release said Medina entered their custody on April 14.

Medina had been detained at the Otero County Processing Center — a privately-run ICE detention facility in Chaparral, N.M., outside of El Paso in which a dozen gay men and trans women earlier this year alleged they suffered mistreatment — before ICE “transported” her to the hospital on May 28 after “she complained of chest pains.” ICE in its press release said Medina on the same day requested an HIV test and tested positive.

ICE noted Medina on May 18 “received a positive credible fear finding” and four days later was summoned to appear before an immigration judge. Its press release said Medina on May 28, the same day she was admitted to the hospital, “was processed for release on parole.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina described the conditions at the Otero County Processing Center as “bad.” Medina de Barrientos also told the Blade that Medina did not receive adequate medical care while detained there as her health deteriorated.

Otero County Processing Center personnel reportedly denied Medina’s request for water, sugar and salt that would have allowed her to prepare her own IV. Officials also allegedly ignored her request to be deported back to El Salvador in order to receive treatment.

“She became worse, worse, worse,” Medina de Barrientos told the Blade. “She asked for help because she was a nurse, but they refused. She was denied help. There was no medical attention.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina’s partner in El Salvador, who is also a nurse, spoke with Medina shortly before she died.

“She didn’t feel well because (she said) they were not treating us well,” she said, speaking through tears as she recalled what Medina’s partner told her. “They were not giving them medications.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina’s partner had spoken with a detainee at the Otero County Processing Center who did not know she was at the hospital. Medina de Barrientos said she wanted to get a visa that would have allowed her to travel to the U.S. to be with Medina, but she passed away before she was able to get it.

“I wanted to be with my child,” said Medina de Barrientos. “My child needed me because she was alone.”

The Salvadoran government paid to send Medina’s body back to El Salvador for burial.

Johana Medina León (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

Medina’s death sparked widespread outrage among LGBTI and immigration rights advocates in the U.S.

Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy in a letter to Acting ICE Mark Morgan has demanded additional information about Medina’s death. Medina’s family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Johana deserved to be protected by this country as a human being seeking asylum,” reads a press release that announces the lawsuit. “Instead, she was detained, humiliated, mistreated, and dumped at a hospital where she was not on the threshold of liberty; but, instead, on death’s door. We will get to the truth and hold this government accountable for its callous disregard of Johana.”

Medina de Barrientos was concise when the Blade asked her about the lawsuit.

“I really want to know exactly what happened to him,” she said, referring to Medina.

An ICE spokesperson has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Medina died less than 13 months after Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who had been briefly detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately-run facility in Milan, N.M., where ICE has created a unit for trans women in their custody, died at a New Mexico hospital. Brian Hastings, chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, on Thursday told U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that HIV status can be used to justify the separation of migrants from their children at the border.

ICE has previously told the Blade the agency spends more than $250 million a year on healthcare for detainees. ICE has also noted a 2015 directive that requires personnel to, among other things, provide trans detainees with access to hormone therapy while they are in their custody.

Medina de Barrientos told the Blade she is aware of the Hernández case “through the community.”

“Her’s was not the first case,” said Medina de Barrientos. “There are similar ones.”

Medina de Barrientos also told the Blade that LGBTI activists in El Salvador and the U.S. continue to support her and her family.

“They are helping us a lot,” she said.


California Politics

Caitlyn Jenner: A one percenter gets one percent (actually 1.1%)

“If he doesn’t get recalled, I pity the people of California- It’s a shame, honestly you kind of get the government you deserve.”



Screenshot via CBS Bay Area

LOS ANGELES – It was not the measured tones of a seasoned politician who had experienced the successes and failures inherent with any campaign for public office. Instead, in a speech given to a small gathering of supporters once it became clear that the recall effort against Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom had failed, reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner took to the microphone and groused.

Sounding bitter Jenner said; “He didn’t campaign on not one of his successes, because he doesn’t have any,” she said. “I can’t believe that this many people actually voted to keep him in office. It’s a shame, honestly, it’s a shame. You kind of get the government you deserve.”

Jenner’s ‘it’s a shame’ echoed remarks she had made earlier during the day Tuesday when she told right-wing media outlet Newsmax; “For me, it’s just so up in the air [with] what is going to happen,” she said. “Number one, we gotta get Gavin Newsom outta there. I think it’s going to be difficult doing that, but I’m hoping for the best […] If he doesn’t get recalled, I pity the people of California.”

In the accumulated vote count tabulations listed Wednesday evening, Jenner had placed 12th in the field of candidates after fellow Republican frontrunner, conservative right-wing radio-talk show host Larry Elder, who had garnered 2,386,710 votes and 46.92% to Jenner’s 56,016 votes and 1.1%. (72.65 % Precincts Reporting | 74% expected vote as of Sep. 15, 2021 8:48 pm)

The Newsmax host also asked if she would consider running in 2022 in the regular gubernatorial race or a potential congressional race, Jenner indicated she “would keep her options open.”

“One thing I can say is I have thoroughly enjoyed this process,” she said. “It has been uplifting, rewarding. I’m a compassionate person. I love the people. The process has been great. Once this is over with, we’re gonna evaluate, see where we’re at.”

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Draft of new Cuba family code has marriage equality provision

National Assembly expected to vote on proposal in December



(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — Cuba’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday released a draft of a proposed new family code that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Tremenda Nota, the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the proposed Article 61 of the new family code defines “marriage as a union of two people with legal aptitude who voluntarily agreed to enter into it in order to build a life together based on affection and love.”

The Justice Ministry, according to Tremenda Nota, released the draft a week after a commission that has been charged with writing the new family code met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other officials.

Tremenda Nota reported the National Assembly is expected to vote on the new family code in December. The Associated Press noted a referendum on it would then take place.

“It protects all expressions of family diversity and the right of each person to establish a family in coherence with the constitutional principles of plurality, inclusion and human dignity,” National Union of Jurists of Cuba Vice President Yamila González Ferrer told the Associated Press.

The draft’s release comes nearly three years after the government removed an amendment from a draft of Cuba’s new constitution that would have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples after evangelical groups on the Communist island publicly criticized it. Cuban voters in February 2019 overwhelmingly approved the new constitution without marriage equality.

Cuba would join Costa Rica, Colombia and a handful of other Latin American countries with marriage equality if the new family code draft becomes law.

Former President Fidel Castro in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought him to power sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. His niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ-specific issues as director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), and Díaz-Canel both publicly support marriage equality.

Tremenda Nota Director Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who Cuban police arrested on July 11 during anti-government protests that took place in Havana and across the country. Luis Ángel Adán Roble, a gay man who was once a member of the National Assembly, is among those who have been banned from leaving the country.

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AHF Donates SARS COV-2 viral sequencing machine to the Caribbean

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful”



The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus (Photo Credit: UWI)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago to provide a gene sequencing analyzer and reagents to expand the capacity of the university to test for new and emerging variants of the coronavirus.

This will improve the region’s sequencing capacity and contribute to reducing testing turnaround times. Jamaica and many of the countries in the Region are now experiencing severe upsurges of Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant, with many hospitals exceeding capacity and others running out of oxygen. More recently five cases of the Mu variant were also identified in St. Vincent.

Dr. Kevin Harvey, the Caribbean Regional Director at AHF, in welcoming the agreement, noted that the machine is already on order and should be in place within the next two to three weeks. “The Mu variant has since been isolated in samples from Jamaica as well, making the timeliness of AHF’s donation of the gene sequencing analyzer and reagents all the more critical,” noted Dr. Harvey.  

“Our COVID-19 IMPACT project, a UWI-led collaboration with CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency) and the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health, established local capacity for virus whole genome sequencing in December 2020, and our laboratory at UWI has been carrying out genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 variants for Trinidad and Tobago and 16 other CARPHA member states,” said Dr. Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the UWI.

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful for the AHF’s support. The device they are providing is faster and can also do five times as many samples as the device we started off with, so it will help to increase our throughput.”

Dr. Jorge Saavedra the executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami, highlighted the project as part of a larger initiative by AHF to improve the early detection of new variants to enable proper planning, and in some cases, expansion of existing genomic sequencing initiatives and implementation of mitigation measures in several of the countries served by AHF that can inform public policy. “AHF is also now in final negotiations to provide support to establishing genomic sequencing capacity in Jamaica to reduce the need for all samples to be sent to Trinidad and Tobago.”

AHF has also previously provided similar support to Brazil, Uganda, Mexico, India, Argentina, and before the end of the year, will undertake other similar initiatives in Nigeria, Peru, Ukraine and Pakistan.

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