Afghan Voice Agency (AVA) - Monitoring: The child was identified as Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza by Enrique Reina, the Honduran secretary of foreign affairs. Reina has called for a thorough investigation into the death. Espinoza was located in Safety Harbor, Florida, a small city west of Tampa, where a shelter is used to house unaccompanied children, according to CBS news.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acknowledged the death but provided limited details about the circumstances. In a statement, the agency expressed deep sadness and extended condolences to the family, with whom they are in contact. According to a US official, there was no altercation involved in the death. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, the shelter in Safety Harbor, declined to comment on the teenager's death and directed inquiries to HHS.
Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the District Six Medical Examiner Office, confirmed that his office and the local sheriff's office are involved in investigating the death of a 17-year-old who passed away at East Countryside Hospital. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
HHS has shared information about Espinoza's death with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and according to a source familiar with the matter, the teen was taken to the hospital on Wednesday morning after being found unconscious. He was pronounced dead approximately an hour later, shortly after 9 a.m. The source stated that Espinoza had been in custody for five days before his death.
This tragic incident follows the death of a 4-year-old child from Honduras in HHS custody in March. The child, who was "medically fragile," died after being hospitalized for cardiac arrest in Michigan. The death was not previously reported.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a division of HHS, is responsible for the care and housing of unaccompanied migrant children who arrive at the US-Mexico border without legal guardians. Unaccompanied minors are transferred to ORR within 72 hours, as required by federal law. The refugee office provides shelter and support until the children turn 18 or are placed with a sponsor in the US.
HHS stated that the ORR's Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children is conducting a comprehensive review of Espinoza's case, including examining all inpatient health care records. Additionally, a medical examiner is conducting an investigation into the child's death. The agency emphasized that children in ORR custody have access to healthcare, legal services, translation services, mental and behavioral health counselors, and are able to connect with their families through private phone calls at least twice a week.
As of Wednesday, government figures indicate that there were 8,681 unaccompanied children under the care of HHS, with an average stay of 29 days in ORR custody. In the last fiscal year, approximately 72% of minors referred to ORR were above the age of 14, and about 64% were boys. Typically, unaccompanied children are matched with sponsors, usually relatives, and released.
Honduras, like Espinoza's home country, accounted for about 29% of children in ORR custody in fiscal year 2022. Nearly half of the children were from Guatemala, and around 13% were from El Salvador.
This news comes as the US implements stricter asylum and deportation policies aimed at deterring illegal migration following the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic-related restriction that ended recently.