Allegations Of Sexual Abuse Inside Government’s Immigrant Youth Shelters Mount
A series of serious accusations of sexual abuse inside the government’s immigrant youth shelters was brought to light on Thursday as thousands of immigrant children remain detained around the country, ProPublica reported.
Federal authorities allege that youth care worker Levian D. Pacheco molested at least eight unaccompanied boys at the Southwest Key immigration detention facility, Casa Kokopelli, in Mesa, Arizona.
According to federal court records, Pacheco, who is HIV-positive, performed sex acts on two boys and touched six others, all between ages 15 to 17 at the time. The records also show that officials at the Southwest Key shelter in Mesa were unaware that Pacheco was abusing boys for months and that it wasn’t until one of the boys spoke up last summer and the extent of the abuse allegations against Pacheco was uncovered.
“One of the boys decided to speak up about what had happened to him, and then it was kind of a snowfall where another boy, the roommate, spoke up that it also happened to him,” Michael Grabell, one of the ProPublica reporters who uncovered the details of abuse at the Southwest Key shelter, told CBS News.
Pacheco worked for nearly four months without a complete background check, according to documents and an agency official. Casa Kokopelli was already cited by the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2017 for failing to complete background checks, including fingerprinting, to ensure that employees hadn’t previously committed sex offenses and other crimes.
The revelations Thursday came just days after the police announced other cases of sexual abuse on immigrant children in youth shelters. Another worker at a different Southwest Key facility, Fernando Magaz Negrete, is suspected of molesting a 14-year-old immigrant girl. The Nation reported Friday that a 6-year-old girl who had been separated from her mother was allegedly fondled by a boy at another Southwest Key facility in Glendale, Arizona, in June.
At other Southwest Key facilities, police reports and call logs from the last five years detail inappropriate relationships with staff, dozens of runaways, sexual contact among kids at the shelters and other allegations of molestation by employees. In one case, ProPublica found a 46-year-old youth care worker in Tucson was convicted of groping a 15-year-old boy who had just arrived in the United States five days earlier.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly claimed that the shelters are safe places for kids. But there has been increasingly intense scrutiny of the federally funded, privately run shelters after the administration separated some 3,000 children from their parents at the border and sent them to shelters and foster homes across the country.