A worker at the nonprofit organization Southwest Key was arrested on Wednesday on charges of molesting a 14-year-old girl. The organization runs shelters for children of immigrants who were separated from their families at the border, though it’s not clear if the girl in question was one of these children.
The Associated Press reports:
Fernando Magaz Negrete kissed and fondled the girl in her bedroom at the facility on June 27 in an encounter witnessed by the girl’s 16-year-old roommate, police said. They said surveillance video shows Magaz Negrete, 32, approaching the bedroom several times throughout the night, though the bedroom itself was outside the camera’s view.
“When a child tells us of inappropriate behavior, we immediately call law enforcement and start an internal investigation as appropriate,” a spokesman for Southwest Key told the AP. “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 says it has fired Negrete.
First Lady Melania Trump visited the Phoenix shelter on June 28th, one day after the alleged abuse took place. A former employee of the shelter has called the conditions there “prison-like.”
This is not the first accusation of sexual abuse at a Southwest Key-run facility. Just last week, reports emerged of a 6-year-old girl who was allegedly molested by an older detainee at a Southwest Key center. The staff at the center reportedly made the girl sign a form saying she would stay away from the boy who abused her.
The AP lists more reports of abuses:
The news website ProPublica published a report in late July saying police responded to at least 125 calls reporting sex offenses at shelters that primarily serve immigrant children since 2014. The ProPublica report detailed a 2015 incident at a Tucson, Arizona, shelter operated by Southwest Key in which authorities said an employee touched a 15-year-old Honduran boy’s penis from outside his clothing. The worker was fired and later convicted of molestation.
As of this week, 650 immigrant children were still separated from their parents, according to NBC.