A teenage Honduran migrant died in the custody of the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services. The 17-year-old child from Olanchito, Honduras, appeared healthy before his yet-unexplained death occurred just days after being turned over to the agency responsible for migrant children apprehended after crossing the border from Mexico.
The Honduran government identified the deceased migrant teen as Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza, a 17-year-old boy from Honduras, according to the Associated Press. His mother, Norma Saraí Espinoza Maradiaga, still lives in Honduras, and his father, who was not identified in the article, lives somewhere in the United States.
“The Government of Honduras, through the Embassy in Washington, is in contact with the family and has requested that [Office of Refugee Resettlement] and [United States Department of Health and Human Services] carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case to clarify this fact and, if there is any responsibility, apply the full weight of the law,” the foreign affairs minister for Honduras said in a social media post.
While the Honduran teen is the first to die in the custody of the Biden administration, he joins the list of thousands of migrants, including many children, who died while making the journey to or shortly after crossing the border into the United States.
The circumstances around the child’s death remain unanswered at this time. He left his home in Olanchito on April 25. Within a few days, he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border and was taken into Border Patrol custody. Under Biden administration policy changes, the teen was not subjected to Title 42 expulsion and was instead released to HHS’s custody on May 5.
In January 2021, the month Joe Biden became president, Border Patrol agents apprehended 5,690 unaccompanied migrant children. Following the change in the Trump-era policy that called for unaccompanied minors to be expelled under Title 42, the number of unaccompanied minors began a steady increase. Since the change in policy, more than 342,000 unaccompanied minors were taken into custody after crossing the southern or northern U.S. borders, according to the CBP Nationwide Encounters report ending on March 31.
During the Trump administration, approximately 10,600 migrant children were expelled under Title 42. During the Biden era, that number fell to 27.
By May 10, the teenager who had no reported health issues appeared to have died in his sleep, the AP report states.
“He told me he was in a shelter and not to worry because he was in the best hands,” his mother told the AP. “We only spoke two minutes, I told him goodbye and wished him the best.”
A few days later, a person who identified himself as the teen’s friend from the shelter called the mother and delivered the devastating news that her child was dead. He said when he woke up for breakfast, Ángel Eduardo was unresponsive and had died.
The AP reported:
His mother then called a person in the U.S. who was supposed to have received Ángel Eduardo, asking for help verifying the information. Hours later, that person called her back saying it was true that her son was dead.
“I want to clear up my son’s real cause of death,” she said. He didn’t suffer from any illnesses and hadn’t been sick as far as she knew.
“No one tells me anything. The anguish is killing me,” she said. “They say they are awaiting the autopsy results and don’t give me any other answer.”
HHS officials responded to the news of the child’s death in a statement, saying it is “deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our heart goes out to the family, with whom we are in touch.” The agency responsible for the child’s safety said the death is being investigated by a medical examiner and offered no theories as to the child’s cause of death.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “It is sad news. It is deeply saddening to hear. And we are certainly aware of the tragic loss.” She then dodged any further questions on the matter.
HHS currently holds more than 8,600 migrant children in custody, ABC News reported. An additional 299 were in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border.
These numbers do not include children from Mexico. These children are normally processed and returned to Mexico by the Biden administration, ABC stated.
Ángel Eduardo died in an HHS shelter in Safety Harbor, Florida.