Documents show extent of sexual abuse reports in migrant youth shelters

A Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Federal government documents released last week by a Florida Congressman detailed the scope of sexual abuse allegations reported at shelters that hold migrant minors.

These shelters contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and hold children and teens who arrived in the country alone to seek protections or were separated from their parents.

In a span of almost four years, between October 2014 and July 2018, ORR received 4,556 sexual abuse allegation reports and the U.S. Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints about sexual abuse at the shelters. Many of the complaints were referred to both agencies.  DOJ numbers show the type of perpetrator in the reports, but ORR’s figures do not. Most of the allegations were reports of abuse between minors at the shelters, but 178 of those allegations involved staff.

“Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, said in a press statement. “With the number of allegations each year roughly breaking down to one sexual assault per week for the last three years, clearly this Administration is not equipped to keep these children safe inside their facilities.”


Allegations in Arizona shelters

The documents offer somewhat detailed descriptions of the allegations from October 2014 to July 2016. Seven of the 80 allegations in that document were reported at Arizona shelters, and only one resulted in an arrest. That incident, reported in April 2015 at a Tucson shelter operated by Southwest Key, was likely the case of Oscar Trujillo. ProPublica reported that Trujillo was convicted of molestation in 2017 and sentenced to three years probation for touching a 15-year old boy’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers inside the teen’s room.

The other cases were either not investigated, investigated but closed, or recanted (see transcription of details below).  

For fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the documents just show charts that list where the incidents involving staff occurred and when it was reported to ORR and DOJ. From October 2016 to September 2017, there were 49 sexual abuse allegations involving staff reported to the DOJ — 12 of them in Arizona shelters. Between October 2017 and July 2018, there were also 49 such allegations, 11 of which were in Arizona shelters.

According to ORR policy, no later than four hours after learning of allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, or inappropriate sexual behavior, employees must report it to local law enforcement, child protective services, which in Arizona has been the Department of Child Safety since 2014, and the state’s licensing agency, which in Arizona is the Department of Health Services.


What the documents show on Arizona cases

These are transcripts at apparent Arizona shelters. The documents didn’t include descriptions of the incidents for reports made after September 2016 . Information was edited and condensed for clarity.


Southwest Key – Casa Estrella (Tucson)

Reported to ORR on 12/13/14; reported to DOJ on 12/15/14

A minor reported that a youth care worker approached him twice and offered him shoes in exchange for letting the worker fondle his genitals. The minor refused, and the staff member left. The incident was reported to DCS, the Arizona Department of Health Services and law enforcement, but was not investigated. Staff member was removed from duties immediately after the allegation was reported. The staff member was terminated for unrelated reasons.


Reported to ORR on 4/11/15; reported to DOJ on 4/13/15

A minor told a clinician that a staff member entered his room in the morning and began touching his stomach, and then t left the room. The staff member later returned and touched the minor’s genital area. The incident was reported to DCS but was not investigated. Law enforcement arrested the staff member. Staff member was removed from duties immediately after the allegation was reported. The staff member was terminated.


Southwest Key – Casa Campbell (Phoenix)

Reported to ORR on 7/21/15; reported to on DOJ on 7/22/15

Minor disclosed to her foster parents that a male staff member from Southwest Key Campbell had entered her bedroom and touched her while she was sleeping. The information was reported to DCS and AHDS but was not investigated. Law enforcement interviewed staff but only took report and did not investigate because no perpetrator was identified. Surveillance cameras were reviewed and the allegations could not be confirmed.


SWK Mesa Staff Secure (It’s unclear what location this is)

Reported to ORR on 8/19/15; reported to DOJ on 8/20/15

During a counseling session, a minor said another boy had been joking about having a sexual relationship with his clinician. DCS and ADHS investigated and found no evidence of such a relationship. Staff member was removed from duties immediately after the allegation was reported, but was later reinstated.


Southwest Key Mesa Shelter (There are two Southwest Key facility in Mesa: Casa Kokopelli and Las Palmas; it’s unclear which one is referenced here)

Reported to ORR on 8/14/15; reported to DOJ on 10/26/15

ADHS initiated an investigation of allegations of a sexual relationship between a staffer and a client. DCS and ADHS closed the investigation with no citations given. The staff member no longer worked for program when investigation was initiated.


Tumbleweed Desert Cove (Phoenix – closed)

Reported to ORR on 3/26/2016); reported to DOJ on 4/1/2016

One girl implied to another minor that a staff member had a past romantic relationship with two male minors at the shelter. The girl later admitted that she made up the allegation. DCS and ADHS investigated, and the case was closed. Law enforcement was notified but did not investigate. The staffer was removed from duty. The facility is now closed.


Southwest Key – Casa Kokopelli (Mesa)

Reported to ORR on 6/2/2016; reported to DOJ on 6/3/2016

A minor reported that a female youth care worker kissed him on the lips. Reports were made with DCS and ADHS but the incident was not investigated. The minor did not disclose name of staffer and recanted the allegation.


FY18 – sexual abuse allegations

  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa) [Minor is resident of BCFS Fairfield in California]; reported to ORR on 10/18/2017; reported to FBI on 11/21/2017
  • VisionQuest National (Tucson): reported to ORR on 11/2/2017; reported to FBI on 12/8/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 12/18/2017; reported to FBI on 12/18/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 1/24/2018; reported to FBI on 1/24/2018
  • Southwest Key Mesa: reported to ORR on 2/26/2018; reported to ORR on 3/15/18
  • A New Leaf – Dorothy Mitchell (Mesa): reported to ORR on 3/22/2018; reported to FBI on 3/23/2018
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa): reported to ORR on 4/13/2018; reported to FBI on 4/13/2018
  • Southwest Key Casa Campbell (Phoenix): reported to ORR on 5/2/2018; reported to FBI on 4/6/2018
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa) [Minor is resident of Southwest Key Glendale facility]: reported to ORR on 5/10/2018; reported to FBI on 5/17/2018
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 7/13/2018; reported to FBI on 7/13/2018
  • Southwest Key Casa Campbell (Phoenix): reported to ORR on 7/25/2018; reported to FBI on 7/25/2018*

*This is likely the case of Fernando Magaz Negrete, who is accused of kissing a 14-year-old girl multiple times and touching her breasts and crotch over her clothes inside her room, according to The Arizona Republic.  


FY17 – sexual abuse allegations

  • Southwest Key Hacienda del Sol (Youngtown):  reported to ORR on 1/8/2017; reported to FBI on 1/9/2017
  • Southwest Key Casa Campbell (Phoenix): reported to ORR on 2/17/2017; reported to FBI on 2/22/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 3/12/2017; reported to FBI on 3/12/2017
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa): reported to ORR on 4/6/2017; reported to FBI on 4/16/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 4/10/2017; reported to FBI on 4/11/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 4/24/2017; reported to FBI on 4/25/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 4/24/2017; reported to FBI on 4/25/2017
  • Southwest Key Estrella (Tucson): reported to ORR on 4/24/2017; reported to FBI on 4/25/2017
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa): reported to ORR on 7/24/2017; reported to FBI on 7/24/2017**
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa): reported to ORR on 7/26/2017; reported to FBI on 7/25/2017**
  • Southwest Key Kokopelli (Mesa): reported to ORR on 7/29/2017; reported to FBI on 8/14/2017**
  • Southwest Key Casa Lighthouse (Phoenix): reported to ORR on 8/22/2017; reported to FBI on 8/23/2017  

**These incidents are likely related to Levian Pacheco, who sexually abused several teenage boys between ages 15 and 17. The abuse happened at Casa Kokopelli from August 2016 to July 2017.


Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.


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