A staff member working for Southwest Key, the nonprofit that operates an immigrant detention facility in Phoenix, has been arrested and held on bond after allegedly assaulting a 14-year-old girl in federal custody there.
According to NBC News, the staffer, 32-year-old Fernando Magaz Negrete, reportedly entered the teen girl's bedroom one night in June, kissed and touched her in front of her roommate, who said she witnessed the incident. Negrete, who was taken in by police earlier this week, was brought up on three charges for the alleged assault: child molestation, sexual abuse, and aggravated assault. A court commissioner set his bond at $150,000 on Wednesday.
"When a child tells us of inappropriate behavior, we immediately call law enforcement and start an internal investigation as appropriate," Jeff Eller, a Southwest Key spokesman, told NBC News. "That's what happened in this case. Southwest Key always works with law enforcement to bring the full force of the law to bear when it is warranted."
Southwest Key wouldn't say whether or not the 14-year-old girl had been placed at the facility as part of the Trump administration's family separation practices, but hers is at least the second report of sexual abuse to come to light in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.
Last week, The Nation obtained a document signed by a six-year-old girl in immigrant detention, acknowledging that she would stay away from the person who reportedly sexually abused her—another child being held in the same facility.
The girl, being just six, had signed the form with just her first initial, "D." Next to her scrawl, the adult who'd filled out the rest of the form, specified that she was a "tender age."
“I felt really horrible," her mother told The Nation in a translated interview. "I couldn’t do anything for her, because we were separated. She was so little, she was probably so scared, probably afraid to say anything to anyone. It was a total nightmare for me.”
Sexual abuse has been an ongoing problem at the border, in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, and in the country's immigration detention centers, even before the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration. Between 2013 and 2017, ICE has filed 1,310 reports of sexual abuse, a number that immigrant rights advocates insist is likely much higher, considering how often sexual abuse goes unreported.
Many of the roughly 2,000 children separated from their parents over June and July were sent to facilities that have already accumulated a litany of abuse allegations. Some of their parents found themselves in similar conditions, with immigration officers reportedly sending dozens of women to T. Don Hutto Residential Center, the Texas detention facility perhaps best known for its history of alleged sexual abuse.
"With the ongoing efforts and successes of the #MeToo movement, we must ensure that those in immigration detention are protected as well,” Thomas A. Saenz, the president of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an organization calling for the US Department of Justice to investigate T. Don Hutto, said in a June statement.
“In detention facilities that are consciously secluded from significant public view, immigrant women face serious threats, and our nation must act to ensure that they are protected from predators with significant power to intimidate and violate.”