A 17-year-old migrant who was traveling from Honduras without a parent or guardian has died in a shelter in Florida, officials said Friday, as Border Patrol stations struggling with overcrowding expect an influx of immigrants with the expiration of Title 42.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed in a statement Friday that the minor died in an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for housing and caring for unaccompanied migrant children, is “reviewing all clinical details” including the minor’s healthcare records, according to HHS.
Honduran President Enrique Reina identified the minor as Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza in a tweet Thursday night, stating that he died at a shelter in Safety Harbor, Florida, near Tampa.
Reina called for an “exhaustive investigation” by HHS, which said there is an ongoing medical examiner investigation.
There was a spate of unaccompanied child migrant deaths in U.S. custody reported by HHS in 2019, when seven children died within a 10-month period, but at least one other has died since without being publicly reported, according to CBS News—a four-year-old from Honduras died in HHS custody in March, the outlet reported.
News of Espinoza’s death comes on the same day Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration policy, has officially expired. The Trump Administration established Title 42 to reduce overcrowding at Border Patrol centers during the height of Covid-19—ostensibly due to concerns about the spread of the virus—letting officers swiftly turn away migrants at the border rather than holding them. The Biden Administration is now implementing a series of new regulations to deter immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, and migrants will not be able to cross for five years if they are caught crossing illegally.
As the Title 42 policy expires, Border Patrol centers are buckling down for even more overcrowding. Overcrowding has been an ongoing issue, which has led to some Border Patrol stations releasing migrants into the U.S. with instructions to appear at an immigration office within 60 days or face deportation. Florida, where Espinoza died, filed a lawsuit to stop these releases, which a federal judge approved on Thursday. Customs and Border Protection said it would comply with the order but called it a “harmful ruling that will result in unsafe overcrowding,” according to the Associated Press.
In 2020, doctors told a congressional committee two migrant children’s deaths in prior years were “preventable” and could have been avoided. Jakelin Caal, 7, died of septic shock, which “went untreated over many hours” and led to organ failure, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died of “untreated influenza,” which also spiraled into health complications, Fiona Danaher, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the committee. The often crowded conditions of shelters where detained children are held create a “risk for medical neglect,” Danaher said.
A government oversight report released last week showed Border Patrol agents may be significantly undercounting immigrant deaths, with the number of people dying potentially twice as high as previously reported. Customs and Border Protection “has not collected and recorded, or reported to Congress, complete data on migrant deaths or disclosed limitations with the data it has reported,” according to the report from the Government Accountability Office.
On October 20, 2020, a 16-year-old teen migrant died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody in south Texas. The death of the unnamed teen raises questions about the effectiveness of the measures used by the Trump administration to discourage migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and the pressure put on CBP officials as the expiration of the Title 42 provisions looms.
Title 42 was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March of this year to help contain the spread of Covid-19. Under Title 42, U.S. officials can turn back any non-U.S. citizens, legal residents or asylum seekers who come to the U.S. without being processed, citing public health concerns. The order has broadly been used to push back asylum seekers attempting to enter the U.S., including families with children.
The teen, who was from Guatemala, was found unresponsive on the morning of October 20th at the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, New Mexico. U.S. officials have since transported the unidentified teen’s body to a local funeral home for autopsy and further investigation.
It is unclear at this time how long the teen had been in CBP custody, and why the CBP failed to detect any health issues which may have led to his death. A CBP spokesperson said in a statement that the teen was “processed and provided with meals, access to water, showers and medical care,” but they did not provide any further details.
The death of this teen migrant highlights the pressure on CBP officers as the expiration of the Title 42 provisions looms. With overcrowded holding cells, a backlog of cases and limited resources, there is a danger of more deaths occurring as the CDC order has kept migrants from accessing essential humanitarian services such as medical care.
The death of this teen migrant should serve as a stark reminder of the importance of humanely and adequately treating all immigrants, especially children and those deemed vulnerable. This tragedy highlights the need for Congress to pass meaningful reform that ensures refugees and asylum seekers can access their rights and resources, and that the government responds appropriately and compassionately to this vulnerable population.