Youth care worker Levian D. Pacheco has been charged with eleven sex crimes based on allegations of sexual abuse by at least eight immigrant teenage boys who were being housed at the shelter where he worked in Mesa, Arizona. Pacheco, 25, worked at the Casa Kokopelli facility, run by an organization called Southwest Key Programs, from May 2016 to July 2017. Between August 2016 and July 2017, he has been accused of engaging in oral sex with two teenage boys, attempting to force another into anal intercourse, and groping six others.
Pacheco is also HIV-positive and several of the alleged victims asked to be tested for the virus.
All eight alleged victims were unaccompanied minors, but it is unknown whether or not they traveled to the United States with their parents.
In 2017, the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) cited Casa Kokopelli, where the alleged sexual abuse took place, for failure to complete background checks, including fingerprinting. These background checks help weed out candidates with a history of committing sexual crimes and other criminal offenses. Pacheco worked at Casa Kokopelli for almost four months without a full background check.
Sadly, this is not the only reported case of child sexual abuse at immigrant shelters in the United States. Many of these facilities are operated by private companies who have failed to properly screen employees for criminal histories or who have failed to keep their facilities safe from the possibility of abuse.
On Tuesday, another employee at a different Southwest Key Facility in Phoenix was charged with child molestation, sexual abuse, and aggravated assault for an incident which allegedly occurred at his workplace. 32-year-old Fernando Magaz Negrete allegedly entered a 14-year-old girl’s room and kissed her. The girl got away from him and he left the room. Another 14-year-old girl sharing the room allegedly witnessed this incident.
Legal Herald contributor Kevin Biniazin has some thoughts on the rights of immigrants who suffer sexual abuse in detention facilities:
Even though the migrants being housed at immigration centers may not be American citizens, they are still protected by the American legal system. These migrants have the same rights as citizens to file a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse if their rights are violated.
When organizations and businesses that deal with minors hire staff, it’s crucial for them to do thorough background checks to make sure no predators are brought on board. Additionally, facilities should be operated in a way that reduces the risk of sexual abuse, such as forbidding adult employees from being alone in one-on-one situations with children.
The police handle prosecuting sexual predators, punishing them with jail time and taking them off the streets before they can continue to abuse others. However, the criminal justice system does little to compensate the victims of these crimes. Fortunately, filing a civil lawsuit against companies who enable or fail to prevent abuse offers another route to justice for victims. A lawsuit can help hold these companies accountable, protect others from suffering sexual abuse, and provide financial support for victims.