An employee at an Arizona facility that houses immigrant children separated from their families at the border has been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, according to Phoenix police.
Fernando Negrete, 32, was arrested Tuesday and is facing charges of molestation of a child, sexual abuse, and aggravated assault, the Arizona Republic reported. One of the victim’s roommates informed police on July 25 that she had witnessed the suspect kiss the girl multiple times and touch her breasts and crotch over her clothes in the bedroom she shared with two other minors. The claims made by the teen are substantiated by video surveillance footage showing Negrete near the girls’ room multiple times between 9 p.m. and about 10:30 p.m. on June 27.
According to the Phoenix Police Department, the suspect admitted to his involvement and was booked into jail on one count each of molestation, aggravated assault, and sexual abuse.
Just last week, ProPublica published police reports and call logs from more than two-thirds of youth immigrant shelters run and/or contracted by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement describing rampant abuse.
One child psychiatric expert called these facilities a “gold mine” for predators because workers have full access to the children.
According to the ProPublica report, a 46-year-old youth care worker at a shelter in Tuscon, Arizona was fired and convicted after repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old Honduran boy.
“I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” the worker reportedly said to the child, according to a police report.
Another boy at the same facility claimed a staff member frequently caressed his arm and commented on the size of his genitalia. The child reportedly hid in bathrooms to avoid contact with the employee.
The Tuscon shelter where the alleged abuse of the 14-year-old girl occurred is operated by Southwest Key, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that houses more than 1,500 migrant children in Arizona, California, and Texas under a $458 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Service’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.
In early June, a 6-year-old girl separated from her family at the border was allegedly sexually abused by a child held with her at one of Southwest Key’s shelters in Arizona. According to The Nation, the 6-year-old was then forced to sign a form acknowledging that she was told to maintain her distance from her alleged abuser. The facility did not take adequate steps to make sure it never happened again, as the young child was allegedly fondled once more a few weeks later.
At Casa Padre, a Southwest Key facility in Brownsville, Texas, migrant children and teens described severe mistreatment. According to a recent court filing, several children said they were subjected to psychological abuse and lack of basic necessities, like food that didn’t make them ill, at the facility — a converted Walmart in south Texas.
“They do not give us enough food and I am always hungry. Also, here at Casa Padre, they do not let us go to the doctor when we ask,” Elmer S., a 15-year-old Honduran, said. “I had an appointment to see the dentist when I was at Casa Esperanza but Casa Padre canceled it when I got here and have not rescheduled.”