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Arizona Immigration Detention Center Worker Charged With Sexually Assaulting Teen

Witnesses say Fernando Magaz Negrete touched and kissed the teen girl inappropriately in her bedroom. 

By Stefan Lembo-Stolba

An employee of an Arizona facility that houses immigrant children separated from their families was arrested on Tuesday after he allegedly molested a 14-year-old, police say.

Fernando Magaz Negrete was working at one of the controversial centers in June, when witnesses say he kissed and inappropriately touched a teen girl in her bedroom, the Associated Press reported.

Negrete, 32, was seen on surveillance video approaching the girl's room several times throughout the night, police told the AP.

“When a child tells us of inappropriate behavior, we immediately call law enforcement and start an internal investigation as appropriate,” Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller 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.”

Negrete was fired from Southwest Key and was charged on Tuesday with molestation of a child, one count of sexual abuse and a count of aggravated assault, according to Maricopa County jail records.

The facilities used to detain immigrant children have come under serious scrutiny since the Trump administration’s enforcement took on a “zero tolerance” policy to separating children and their parents if they enter the county illegally.

An Arizona Representative, Ruben Gallego, wrote a letter on Wednesday that urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the cases of alleged sexual abuse of children at immigrant detention centers, according to ABC15 in Phoenix.

Earlier this year, a 6-year-old girl was sexually abused by staff at another detention center in Arizona owned by Southwest Key, according Gallego’s letter. He described another two cases at Southwest Key-owned facilities involving teens who reported sexual assault by staff members.

Police nationwide have responded to at least 125 calls for alleged sexual abuse at child immigrant detention centers, according to a report by ProPublica a non-profit investigative news outlet. ProPublica’s report contradicts recent assertions by the Trump administration that the detention centers are “safe havens” for children.

Southwest Key is a non-profit organization based in Texas and its facilities house over 1,500 migrant children throughout Arizona, California and Texas, USA Today reported.

Negrete is being held on $150,000 bail and will appear in court next on Tuesday.

[Photo: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office]

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