6 Year Old Sexually Abused in Immigrant Detention Center After Being Separated From Mother

Asylum seeker and former immigrant detainee Mateo Lemus Campos attends a protest against conditions in Adelanto Immigration Detention Center, outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A 6-year-old girl has been sexually abused in an immigration detention center after having been separated from her mother, according to an immigrant-rights group.

Documents obtained by The Nation show the girl was abused at the Casa Glendale facility near Phoenix, Arizona, by an older child being held there. She was then made to sign a form that said she would keep her distance from her abuser.

Identified only as D.L., the girl crossed the border with her mother in El Paso, Texas, to escape gang violence in Guatemala. Two days later, the pair were separated under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy. The girl was then sent to Casa Glendale, operated by Southwest Key Program, which operates 26 immigrant shelter facilities for immigrant children across the country.

The documents said the girl had "presented sexually inappropriate behavior," prompting staff to investigate. On June 11, the girl's father—an undocumented immigrant living in California—received a call from Southwest Key staff telling him his daughter had been abused by one of the boys at the facility, as had several other girls. The first abuse took place on June 4.

According to family spokesperson Mark Lane, he was told that the center's protocols were being changed to make sure the abuse was not repeated. Though the father asked to speak to a social worker about the abuse, he was never contacted by one.

The next day, D.L. was told to sign a form noting she had been told to "maintain my distance from the other youth involved." D.L., who is listed as being of "tender age," acknowledged "that it is my responsibility to follow the safety plan" put in place.

However, the abuse continued. D.L.'s father received another call on June 22, telling him his daughter has been touched inappropriately by the same boy and that she had hit her abuser.

D.L.'s mother was being detained in Texas while the abuse was happening. She told The Nation she "felt really horrible" at being unable to help her daughter. "It was a nightmare. When my husband told me what happened, I felt helpless. She was so little, she was probably so scared, probably afraid to say anything to anyone. It was a total nightmare for me."

The family were later reunited. It is not clear whether they plan to take legal action against the center where the abuse occurred. The facility has thus far failed to respond to any requests for comments, as has the Department of Health and Human Services.

D.L.'s mother said her daughter is beginning to recover, but the psychological scars of her time in detention are clear to see. She said it took several days for D.L. to recognize her as her mother, and "behaved like she was still in detention." She explained her daughter "told me that she thought I was never going to be with her again and that she was going to have to live with another lady...She wouldn't touch me, hug me, or kiss me."

The Trump administration claims to have met its court-ordered deadline to reunite more than immigrant children with their parents, The Hill reported. Officials have identified 1,634 parents as being eligible for reunification out of a possible 2,551 children aged 5 and older still in custody. A further 711 children remain in the care of the government because their parents are either not eligible for reunification or could not be found.