An immigration worker who is HIV-positive has been charged with sexually abusing at least eight unaccompanied immigrant boys at an Arizona detention center.
Levian Pacheco, 25, is facing 11 sex-related charges, including allegations that he performed oral sex on two teenagers, and tried to force another to penetrate him anally, according to ProPublica.
All of the victims were between 15 and 17 years old. The other six teenagers have accused Pacheco of groping them through their clothing. The alleged crimes took place between August 2016 and July 2017, according to a court filing last week.
Pacheco was indicted in August 2017 and the case is now proceeding through U.S. District Court in Phoenix. Pacheco has pleaded not guilty and denied the charges in court documents, ProPublica reports. Pacheco’s attorney, Benjamin Good, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Pacheco was employed as a youth care worker at Casa Kokopelli, a Southwest Key detention center in Mesa, Arizona, that was cited by the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2017 for failing to run background checks on employees.
According to ProPublica, Pacheco worked at the shelter for nearly four months without a full background check. A subsequent review of his records did not show any past arrests or sex offense convictions.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told ProPrublica that the agency issued a stop placement order and removed all unaccompanied minors from the Casa Kokopelli facility. He declined to say when the order was issued.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families treats our responsibility for each child with the utmost care,” he said. “Any allegation of abuse or neglect is taken seriously.”
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News of the charges comes amid an influx of migrant children entering federal custody, after the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy separated more than 2,500 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Facing intense backlash, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June ending his policy of separating migrant families at the border. As of last week’s court-ordered deadline to reunite the families, 1 in 3 children remained separated from their parents, according to NBC News.
Though Pacheco’s alleged crimes took place before this ongoing crisis, there are other more recent reports of children being mistreated in detention centers since President Trump’s policy was announced in April.
On Tuesday, a worker at an immigrant children’s shelter in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl at the facility in June, according to CNN. And a 6-year-old girl who had been separated from her mother as a result of Trump’s policy was allegedly sexually abused by an older detainee at another detention facility in Glendale, Arizona, The Nation reported last week.
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