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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies while in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

FLOWOOD, Miss. — A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Los Angeles Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Mississippi

Murdered & misgendered in Mississippi, Jackson Trans man shot to death

Groves was misgendered and deadnamed in most of the local media coverage except the Clarion-Ledger which issued a correction

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Mel Groves via his personal Facebook page

JACKSON – A 25-year-old Trans male resident of the Mississippi capital city died from multiple gunshot wounds this past Monday. Sam Brown, a spokesperson for the Jackson Police Department told media outlets that the victim had been shot several times and managed to drive to Merit Health Hospital collapsing as he exited the vehicle.

Mel Groves was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he died from his injuries. “Police are trying to determine where the shooting took place, as well as the motive and potential suspects,” Brown said. Jackson Police are treating this as an active Homicide investigation.

Groves was misgendered and deadnamed in most of the local media coverage, although the Clarion-Ledger, which has the largest daily circulation in the state issued a correction, noting “This story has been updated to correct the identification of the victim.

The Knights & Orchids Society (TKO) a Selma, Alabama headquartered Southern states grassroots startup founded and led by black, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming people supporting gender justice and LGBTQ visibility expressed its outrage and sadness over Groves’ murder.

In a Facebook post the group said, “The motive is unknown, but we know the violence that happens to trans people in our communities. Mel had even shared that he feared for his life because he was trans in Jackson.

He was the chosen family of our Executive Director Quentin Bell, former TKO Youth Ambassador(formerly known as the anchor program), and farmer for TKO Society’s garden program. He was a Plant Soil Scientist from TU who loved agriculture and animals.

TKO leadership is in Jackson, Mississippi trying to find real answers. Help us. Please contact Mississippi media outlets and demand that they stop misgendering him.

We are offering a reward for any leads and information.”

The National Black Justice Coalition, in a statement, also decried the misgendering and deadnaming Groves, in addition to his being the 39th Trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person to die by violence in the U.S. this year. That’s approaching last year’s record of 44, and that’s not counting all the deaths not reported because of misgendering the NBJC said.

The violence this year seems never-ending, and I am devastated each time I hear of another trans sibling lost,” Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the NBJC, said in the statement. “What is even more heartbreaking is the fact Mel expressed fear for his life because he was trans living in Jackson. Trans people should not have to fear violence simply because of their identity, but that is our country’s current reality. This has to do with the prevalence of transphobia in our daily lives and the inaction around the epidemic of violence against the trans community.

How many times do advocates have to demand legislation that protects the trans community before lawmakers introduce and pass laws that do so? How many times must we point out that misgendering and deadnaming in police reports and news coverage damages the investigations? How many times must we highlight the need for training and action from public safety officials addressing and preventing the violence against the trans community? We cannot continue the way we are going. The time for action is now before even more lives are lost.”

 

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