A 17-year-old unaccompanied immigrant died Wednesday at a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children in Florida, the Washington Examiner reported. The announcement came on the first full day after Title 42 protections expired.
The Department of Health and Human Services reported the incident Friday with assurances it was "in touch" with the child's family and that the agency would be "reviewing all the clinical details of this case." However, early details did not disclose the age of the minor.
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is deeply saddened by the tragic death of an unaccompanied minor on May 10, and our heart goes out to the family," it said in a statement. "A medical examiner investigation is underway."
The teen had entered the care of the HHS weeks ago and was "referred to HHS care on May 5 and placed at the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services in Safety Harbor, Florida," the agency told the media. "ORR requires facilities in Florida to meet state licensing standards," the agency elaborated.
"ORR conducts its own monitoring and evaluation of all ORR facilities to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care," the statement continued. The boy was later identified publicly as Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza of Olanchito, Honduras, Fox News reported.
The details surrounding the teen's death remain unclear, and his mother, Norma Saraí Espinoza Maradiaga, is speaking out. According to her, Ángel was not ill or in poor health when he left his home on April 25 to cross the Mexican border illegally.
"He told me he was in a shelter and not to worry because he was in the best hands," Maradiaga said of her last conversation with her son on May 5. "We only spoke two minutes; I told him goodbye and wished him the best," she added.
"I want to clear up my son’s real cause of death," Maradiaga said. "No one tells me anything. The anguish is killing me."
The HHS has been tight-lipped about the circumstances of Ángel's death, citing "privacy" and "safety reasons" for holding back details. "They say they are awaiting the autopsy results and don’t give me any other answer," his mother added.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that she wasn't sure if Biden had been briefed on the "deeply saddening" death. "We are certainly aware of the tragic loss, and our hearts go out to the family," she said.
"There is a medical investigation that was opened on May 10, and so I don't want to get ahead of that," Jean-Pierre added. "We've got to let the investigation go through."
The announcement of Ángel's death came as President Joe Biden failed to secure the border as Title 42 protections expired. Previously, the U.S. could quickly turn away border crossers on the grounds of COVID-19 public health concerns, but the provision's abolishment means a fresh onslaught of illegal immigrants.
Biden has kept mum on both the boy's death and the larger issue at the border. However, this tragic situation may just be the beginning for agencies charged with housing and caring for the throngs of people who will flood into the U.S. now that Title 42 is a thing of the past.
The president has not taken ownership of this problem and has, in fact, done everything he can to make it worse. What happened to Ángel is a tragedy, but likely won't be an isolated incident thanks to Biden's poor leadership.