The mother of a 17-year-old Honduran migrant who died in US custody said Saturday her son had epilepsy but showed no signs of being seriously ill before leaving for the United States.
The death of Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza at a detention center in Safety Harbor, Florida, on Wednesday underscored concerns about a strained immigration system as the Biden administration ends asylum restrictions known as Title 42.
His mother, Norma Saraí Espinoza Maradiaga, said her son had had epilepsy since he was a child, but his seizures were brief and not severe.
“He had epilepsy, but it was not a disease that threatened him, because he had it since he was eight years old,” he said. “The longest a seizure lasted was less than a minute. It seemed like it only hit him a little bit.”
Espinoza Maradiaga had told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday that Ángel Eduardo left his hometown of Olanchito on April 25. He crossed the US-Mexico border a few days later and on May 5 he was referred to the US Department of Health and Human Services. , which operates long-term facilities for minors who cross the border without a parent.
That same day he last spoke to his mother, she said.
“He told me that I was in a shelter and not to worry because I was in the best hands,” he said. “We only spoke for two minutes. I said goodbye and wished him the best.”
Espinoza Maradiaga said she learned of her son’s death first from one of her friends at the migrant shelter and then from a US official who confirmed the friend’s report.
“I want to clarify the true cause of my son’s death,” he said.
“No one tells me anything. The heartbreak is killing me,” she added. “They say that they are waiting for the results of the autopsy and they do not give me another answer.”
The cause of death and the circumstances of any illness or medical treatment were not immediately known.
Ángel Eduardo had studied through eighth grade before leaving school to work, his mother said Saturday. Most recently, he worked as a mechanic’s assistant. He had been a standout soccer player in his hometown in northern Honduras since he was 7 years old, he said.
The teen was hoping to reunite with her father, who left Honduras for the US years ago, and earn money to support her and her two younger brothers who are still in Honduras, her mother said.
She said she left with his approval and with the financial support of her father in the United States.
“Since he was 10 years old, he wanted to live the American Dream to see his father and have a better life,” he said. “His idea was to help me. He told me that when I was in the United States my life was going to change ”.
The Department of Health and Human Services offered its condolences in a statement Friday, saying a review of health care records was underway and a medical examiner was investigating the death.
Asylum restrictions under Title 42 expired Thursday and President Joe Biden’s administration installed new curbs for border crossers beginning Friday. Tens of thousands of people attempted to cross the US-Mexico border in the weeks before Title 42 expired, under which US officials removed many people but allowed exemptions for others, including unaccompanied minors. His parents.
This was the first known death of an immigrant minor in custody during the Biden administration. At least six young people have died in US custody during the Trump administration, which at times detained thousands of children beyond the capacity of the system.
HHS operates long-term facilities to hold children who cross the border without a parent until they can be placed with a sponsor. HHS facilities generally have beds, as well as education and other activities for minors, unlike Border Patrol stations and detention sites where detainees sometimes sleep on cell floors.
Advocates opposed to detaining immigrant minors say HHS facilities are not adequate to hold them for weeks or months, as is sometimes the case.
More than 8,600 minors are now in HHS custody. That number may rise significantly in the coming weeks amid changing border policies, as well as increasing migration trends throughout the Western Hemisphere and the traditional surge in spring and summer crossings.