Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has mandated inspections of all facilities in the state run by Southwest Key, the non-profit organization that collected hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the federal government to house immigrant children.
The order follows the arrest of workers at shelters housing migrant children. The workers are accused of sexually assaulting the children.
Ducey ordered inspections for every one of the 13 facilities that Southwest Key operates in Arizona, according to a CBS affiliate in Phoenix.
Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told the CBS affiliate her agency has visited Southwest Key shelters in recent months to follow up on reports of abuse or other mistreatment.
“We’ve been going out since June to investigate the different allegations that have been showing up,” she said. “We’ve been out to some of these facilities a couple of times.”
Many of the more than 2,000 children who were separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally have been held at Southwest Key facilities. The non-profit, which is based in Texas, houses migrant kids at 26 shelters in Texas, California and Arizona.
Federal authorities allege a former youth care worker at a Southwest Key shelter for immigrant youths in Arizona sexually abused eight teenage boys, one of several cases brought to light in recent weeks as thousands of immigrant children remain detained around the country.
Court documents show Levian Pacheco faces several charges stemming from incidents that allegedly took place between August 2016 and July 2017 at a Southwest Key facility in Mesa. The case was first reported by ProPublica.
Authorities charge Pacheco performed sex acts on two boys and touched six others, all between ages 15 to 17 at the time. Court documents also state Pacheco is HIV-positive, and that some of the teens opted to be tested for the virus.
Pacheco has pleaded not guilty, and denied the allegations. His federal public defender has said in court documents the government’s allegations include an "extraordinarily broad range of dates and lack of specificity."
"We are looking forward to defending Mr. Pacheco in court," attorney Benjamin Good said in an email to The Associated Press.
The revelations came on the heels of another report about a worker at a different Southwest Key facility, Fernando Magaz Negrete, who is suspected of molesting a 14-year-old immigrant girl.
Authorities say Magaz Negrete kissed and fondled the girl in her bedroom on June 27, in an encounter witnessed by the girl’s 16-year-old roommate. 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.
Southwest Key fired Magaz Negrete. It was not clear if he is represented by an attorney.
Efforts by Fox News to reach Ducey’s spokesman were unsuccessful.
Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller told Fox News in a statement that Pacheco was immediately suspended, and police were called when allegations surfaced.
As for Negrete, another statement said: "When a child tells us of inappropriate behavior, we immediately call law enforcement and start an internal investigation as appropriate. 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 continued: "Our number one priority at Southwest Key Programs is to keep the children in our care safe. We have built a thorough infrastructure of both preventative and responsive measures in order to ensure their safety."
"In addition to vetting and training our staff, we educate every minor in our care of their right to be free from abuse or neglect in our program and in this country," said the statement. "This message is shared with them upon arrival and repeated to the children throughout the duration of their stay at our shelters."
The non-profit said that when there is a report of possible abuse, it alerts the federal and state agencies that have a role in such shelters.
The victims in the case against Pacheco were all unaccompanied minors. It’s not clear if they had been separated from their parents or traveled to the U.S. alone, although the government was not widely separating families at the time of the incidents.
The CBS report said that Arizona State Rep. Kelli Butler says she’s drafting a measure aimed at tightening oversight of Southwest Key facilities.Butler wants Southwest Key to report crimes to the Arizona Department of Health Services as well as to police.
“We’re working on legislation to try to close that loophole and make sure the Department of Health knows when these allegations are made,” Butler said. “They need to know.”