‘He wanted to live the American dream’: Honduran teen dies in US immigration custody


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The mother of a 17-year-old boy who died in U.S. immigration custody this week demanded responses from American officials on Friday, saying her son had no known illnesses and had shown no signs of illness before his son Death.

According to a tweet from Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina, the teenager has been identified as Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza. Maradiaga was being held at a facility in Safety Harbor, Fla., Reina said, and died Wednesday. His death underscored concerns about a strained immigration system managed by the Biden administration the end of asylum restrictions known as Title 42.

His mother, Norma Saraí Espinoza Maradiaga, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that her son “wanted to live the American dream.”

Ángel Eduardo left his hometown of Olanchito, Honduras on April 25, his mother said. A few days later he crossed the US-Mexico border and on May 5 was referred to the US Department of Health and Human Services, which runs longer-term facilities for children who cross the border without parents.

On the same day he spoke to his mother for the last time, she said on Friday.

“He told me he was at an animal shelter and not to worry because he was in the best of hands,” she said. “We only spoke for two minutes, I said goodbye to him and wished him well.”

This week, someone posing as one of her son’s friends at the shelter called her to say that Ángel Eduardo was unresponsive and dead when he woke up for breakfast.

His mother then called a person in the US who was supposed to have received Ángel Eduardo and asked for help verifying the information. Hours later, this person called her back and said it was true that her son was dead.

“I want to clarify the true cause of my son’s death,” she said. He was not suffering from any illnesses and as far as she knew had not been ill.

“No one tells me anything. The agony is killing me,” she said. “They say they are waiting for the autopsy results and will not give me any other answer.”

There was no immediate cause of death, no evidence of illness or medical treatment.

HHS said in a statement on Friday that it is “deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our condolences go out to the family we are in contact with.” A review of the health records is underway, as is a coroner’s investigation, the department said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the news “devastating” and referred questions about the investigation to HHS.

Title 42 asylum restrictions expired Thursday as President Joe Biden’s administration announced new restrictions on cross-border commuters that went into effect Friday. Tens of thousands of people attempted to cross the US-Mexico border over the past few weeks before the expiry of Title 42, After that, US officials expelled many people but made exceptions for others, including minors who crossed the border unaccompanied by a parent.

This was the first known death of an immigrant child in custody during the Biden administration. At least six immigrant children died in US custody during former President Donald Trump’s administration, when the US at times held thousands of children beyond the system’s capacity.

HHS operates long-term facilities to hold children who cross the border without parents until they can be placed with a sponsor. HHS facilities generally have beds and facilities, as well as schooling and other activities for minors, in contrast to Border Patrol stations and detention centers where inmates sometimes sleep in cells on the floor.

Advocates opposed to the detention of immigrant children say HHS facilities are not designed to hold minors for weeks or months, which sometimes happens.

More than 8,600 children are currently in HHS custody. This number could increase sharply in the coming weeks due to changing border policies, as well as sharply increasing migration trends in the Western Hemisphere and the traditional increase in spring and summer border crossings.

Ángel Eduardo had studied until eighth grade before leaving school to work. Most recently he worked as a mechanic’s assistant. He had been a standout soccer player in Olanchito, northern Honduras, since he was seven, his mother said.

The teenager was hoping to be reunited with his father, who left Honduras for the United States years ago, and earn money to support her and two younger siblings who are still in Honduras, his mother said.

He emigrated to the United States with his mother’s consent and financial support from his father, she said.

“From the age of 10 he wanted to live the American dream, see his father and have a better life,” she said. “His idea was to help me. He told me that once he was in the United States, he would change my life.”

Dealer reported from Washington. AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller and AP writers Colleen Long in Washington and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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