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An employee of Southwest Key, the operator of the largest network of shelters for migrant children, was arrested for soliciting a young girl he met while working at a facility in Brownsville, Texas.
Hugo Alberto Rodriguez, 31, allegedly tried to obtain sexually explicit material from a young girl whom he met while she was being held at a Southwest Key shelter, District Attorney Luis Saenz told the Brownsville Herald. He’s been charged with online solicitation of a minor under 14, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Southwest Key spokesperson Neil Nowlin told VICE News that Rodriguez was fired nearly a year ago “based on inappropriate comments made during a conversation with a coworker.”
“We investigated this incident and made a decision to terminate his employment based on this employee’s lack of prudent judgment,” Nowlin said. “We also immediately reported this incident to licensing authorities to follow proper protocol. This person was not employed with us when the allegations he was arrested for occurred. We strictly forbid any contact with minors after they leave our care.”
Southwest Key, a nonprofit organization that contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, operates 26 shelters in Texas, Arizona, and California.
This isn’t the first time an employee of Southwest Key has been accused of sexually abusing children in the organization’s care, the majority of whom come to the U.S. alone and are sent to shelters while immigration officials work to place them with a family member or a sponsor.
Last September, a former Southwest Key employee was convicted for molesting several unaccompanied migrant children, aged 15 to 17, over an 11-month period at the Casa Kokopelli shelter in Mesa, Arizona. In August, an employee a Phoenix Southwest Key shelter was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl in the facility. He was charged with molestation of a child, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.
From 2013 to 2018, police responded to at least 125 calls reporting sexual offenses at shelters for child migrants, according to a 2018 ProPublica investigation. Not all the calls reported instances of abuse though: At least one call was made after a migrant girl told shelter staff she had been raped in her home country of Honduras.
In a February hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Florida Rep. Ted Duetch characterized ORR-contracted shelters as an “unsafe environment” for child migrants and cited 178 complaints against shelter staff between 2015 and 2019.
“Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assault by staff on unaccompanied children,” Duetch said.
Cover image: Empty cots are seen at a facility in Brownsville, Texas. as dozens of migrants arrive at the non-profit shelter for assistance Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Brownsville, Texas. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)