A stabbing death in Florida has fueled criticism of the federal government’s handling of immigration after local authorities discovered the suspect had lied about his identity and had recently been apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, which alerted journalists to the case before the man's arraignment, cites reports that the 24-year-old suspect posed as a teenager at the border in order to cross as an unaccompanied minor — though federal officials haven’t confirmed that nor explained how he ended up in Florida. DeSantis' office says the case shows “inadequate vetting” as well as a lack of transparency in how the Biden administration transports immigrants who cross illegally.
The suspect, Yery Medina Ulloa, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a charge of second-degree murder.
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With proper vetting, border agents should have determined Medina Ulloa “was not a minor, was dishonest about his real identity, and should not be free to move around our country,” governor’s spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in an email.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection and is eyeing a 2024 presidential run, has taken a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. He has been attacking the administration of President Joe Biden for months, alleging in a lawsuit that Biden’s policies are luring more immigrants to the border.
A recent review of The Associated Press and AIM Media Texas also showed how Biden was unprepared for the huge increase in people seeking refuge at the border at different points throughout the year.
It is still unclear how Medina Ulloa, of Honduras, was processed upon arriving in the U.S.
The State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville said he had been apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol earlier this year but could not confirm whether he used a different identity when this happened. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol, did not respond to questions on the case.
On Oct. 7, Medina Ulloa was found covered in blood by witnesses near a pond in Jacksonville. A witness says he received a call from Medina Ulloa where he said he had killed Francisco Cuellar because he hit him. Cuellar was found dead on the floor of his living room. Witnesses say he had been staying in Cuellar's house, and called him uncle, but they were not related.
He was first arrested and placed in a juvenile detention center after giving sheriff deputies a different name and saying he was 17. Six days later, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement obtained his real identity from the Honduran consulate, court documents show.
A woman who identified as his mother in Jutiquile, Honduras told the Spanish-language broadcast Univision that he had used a different name when encountering border authorities so that he would be placed in a shelter.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department said it does not comment on individual cases and did not confirm whether the man had been placed under its custody as it happens when minors are found by the Border Patrol.
About 13% of children who were released from government custody in August, the last month for which statistics are available, went with people who were either distant relatives or not related. The government generally requires documents proving the relationship with the child or the child’s family existed before the child migrated to the U.S.
The public defender for Medina Ulloa did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.