A 17-year-old migrant boy from Honduras died in the custody of a Florida facility that was sheltering unaccompanied minors for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to a tweet from the Honduran government and an HHS statement.
The boy was named Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza, the Honduran government said. Espinoza entered HHS care on May 5 and received a clean bill of health, according to a person familiar with the matter. Then on the morning of May 10 he was taken to a nearby hospital where he died, the person familiar said.
A tweet from the account for the Honduran Secretary of Foreign Affairs said, “The Government of Honduras, through the Embassy in Washington, is in contact with the family and has requested that ORR and HHS 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.”
An HHS spokesperson said in a statement that the agency “is deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our heart goes out to the family, with whom we are in touch. As is standard practice for any situation involving the death of an unaccompanied child or a serious health outcome, [ORR]'s Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children (DHUC) is reviewing all clinical details of this case, including all inpatient health-care records. A medical examiner investigation is underway. Due to privacy and safety reasons, ORR cannot share further information on individual cases of children who have been in our care.”
The shelter where Espinoza stayed is in Safety Harbor, Florida, according to the Honduran government. The facility is run by the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, Inc. A receptionist at the facility’s headquarters in Clearwater directed all media calls to an email address for HHS.
The Florida Department of Children and Families released a statement saying Espinoza’s death is under investigation by local law enforcement and noted, “The oversight responsibility of this unaccompanied alien children facility lies solely with the federal government as it is regulated by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). To be clear, this facility is not licensed by the Department of Children and Families.”
Title 42 ends: Inside the chaos and confusion at the borderMay 12, 202302:50
William A. Pellan, director of investigations for the Pinellas County Medical Examiner, told NBC News in a voicemail that the autopsy was completed Thursday but he had nothing further that he could share.
ORR provides care for unaccompanied minor immigrants through a network of 296 facilities in 27 states, according to an HHS fact sheet. As of May 5, the agency had 8,790 children in its care.
From Oct. 1, 2022, through March 31, 2023, ORR has released 58,654 unaccompanied minors to sponsors around the country, according to HHS. Almost a third of the unaccompanied minors that came into the U.S. in 2022 were from Honduras and their average length of stay in an HHS facility was 30 days, according to the agency.