Thanks to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that ripped thousands of children away from their parents at the border, a 6-year-old girl reportedly was sexually abused on at least two occasions at an Arizona detention facility. In response, she was forced to sign a form stating that she would stay away from her alleged abuser, The Nation reported.
According to the report, the girl, identified by the initials D.L., and her mother had fled gang violence in Guatemala. In May, they sought asylum at a border entry point in El Paso, TX. Two days later, immigration authorities separated D.L. from her mother and sent the young girl to an immigration shelter outside of Phoenix run by Southwest Key Programs.
The first incident of alleged abuse occurred last June by an older child at the same facility, The Nation reported, citing a Southwest Key Programs document.
A week later, D.L.’s father, an undocumented immigrant in California, was contacted by Southwest Key Programs. The next day, this happened:
On June 12, one day after D.L.’s father was contacted, the 6-year-old girl was presented with the form stating that, as part of the facility’s intervention protocol, she had been instructed to “maintain my distance from the other youth involved” and had been provided “psychoeducation,” described in the document as “reporting abuse” and “good touch bad touch.”
The girls signed the form with the letter “D.”
The girl’s mother, who was detained in Texas at the time, told The Nation: “It was a nightmare. When my husband told me what happened, I felt helpless. She was so little, she was probably so scared, probably afraid to say anything to anyone. It was a total nightmare for me.”
Then, the abuse happened again (emphasis mine):
On June 22, Southwest Key again contacted D.L.’s father and informed him that the same boy initially cited for abuse had hit and fondled D.L. again. According to [family spokesman Mark] Lane, D.L.’s father asked how the facility could allow this to happen, and the woman on the phone responded that she was only calling him to advise him that it had happened, that she didn’t have permission to say anything else, and he would have to speak with the director.
The report noted that Southwest Key, a nonprofit slated to receive $458 million in government funding this year, has been cited “for hundreds of violations over the past three years” in Texas. According to NPR, Southwest Key operates 26 shelters in Arizona, Texas, and California that house 5,100 immigrant minors. In that story, NPR had asked, “Is Southwest Key acting compassionately, or is it complicit in a controversial policy? Is it protecting kids or profiting off them?”
D.L. has since been reunited with her parents, but her mother told The Nation that, “She didn’t recognize me.”
“She wouldn’t touch me, hug me, or kiss me,” D.L.’s mother said.
The same day D.L.’s story was published, ProPublica published an investigation based on police reports and call logs from over 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The investigation dated back to the Obama administration and included shelters run by Southwest Key.
It found that “in the past five years, police have responded to at least 125 calls reporting sex offenses at shelters that primarily serve immigrant children. That number doesn’t include another 200 such calls from more than a dozen shelters that also care for at-risk youth residing in the U.S.”
Boston Medical Center child psychiatrist Lisa Fortuna told ProPublica: “If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” referring to the immigrant youth shelters.