A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Sexually Abused in an
Separated from her mother by Trump's zero-tolerance policy,
the child was forced to sign a statement confirming that she
understood it was her responsibility to stay away from her
By Ari Honarvar
July 27, 2018
A portion of the "safety plan" that 6-year-old D.L. was
required to sign following an alleged incident of sexual
abuse at a Southwest Key Programs facility.
According to immigrant-rights advocates, a 6-year-old girl
separated from her mother under the Trump administration's
"zero-tolerance" immigration policy was sexually abused
while at an Arizona detention facility run by Southwest Key
Programs. The child was then made to sign a form
acknowledging that she was told to maintain her distance
from her alleged abuser, who is an older child being held at
the same detention facility.
The girl, who is only identified by the initials D.L., and
her mother had been fleeing gang violence in their native
Guatemala. According to the family, the pair entered the
United States at a point of entry in El Paso, Texas, on May
24, where they presented Border Patrol authorities with
paperwork claiming that they had "credible fear" that
returning to Guatemala would result in harm. On May 26,
government officials separated D.L. from her mother and sent
her to Casa Glendale, a shelter outside of Phoenix operated
by Southwest Key Programs. It was there that the alleged
Before D.L. was taken away, her mother provided authorities
with the phone number of D.L.'s father, an undocumented
immigrant living in California. On June 11, D.L.'s father
received a phone call from Southwest Key explaining that a
boy had fondled his daughter and other girls. According to
family spokesperson Mark Lane, D.L.'s father was told not to
worry, because Southwest Key was changing some of its
protocols and such abuse would not happen again. (Lane was
connected with D.L.'s family through Families Belong
Together, a coalition of civil-rights groups formed in
response to the recent border crackdown.) Lane says that
D.L.'s father asked to speak with a social worker, but,
despite promises from the facility, he never heard from
A Southwest Key Programs document obtained by The Nation
confirms that D.L. was reported to have been sexually abused
on June 4, 2018. On June 12, one day after D.L.'s father was
contacted, the 6-year-old girl was presented with the form
stating that, as part of the facility's intervention
protocol, she had been instructed to "maintain my distance
from the other youth involved" and had been provided
"psychoeducation," described in the document as "reporting
abuse" and "good touch bad touch." The form, posted below,
shows D.L's "signature"--a single letter "D," next to the
characterization of her as "tender age"--which supposedly
confirms that D.L understands "that it is my responsibility
to follow the safety plan" reviewed with her.
Southwest Key Programs Safety Plan
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When D.L.'s mother learned about the incident, she was still
being detained in Texas and felt devastated. "I felt really
horrible. I couldn't do anything for her, because we were
separated," she said through a translator in an interview
with The Nation. "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."
But the nightmare wasn't over. On June 22, Southwest Key
again contacted D.L.'s father and informed him that the same
boy initially cited for abuse had hit and fondled D.L.
again. According to Lane, D.L.'s father asked how the
facility could allow this to happen, and the woman on the
phone responded that she was only calling him to advise him
that it had happened, that she didn't have permission to say
anything else, and he would have to speak with the
Southwest Key, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, is
contracted by the federal government to house immigrant
minors in 26 facilities across the United States, according
to a report in Texas Monthly. The company's shelters have
come under increased scrutiny since the Trump administration
began forcibly separating children from immigrant parents
seeking asylum. In Texas, where the nonprofit operates a
number of children's shelters, facilities have been cited
for hundreds of violations over the past three years.
Southwest Key is expected to be paid $458 million by the
federal government this year.
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When The Nation contacted Southwest Key, a woman who
answered the phone said she was not allowed to talk to the
media. Additional requests for comment have not been
answered. The Department of Health and Human Services, which
contracts with Southwest Key, also did not have a comment at
Earlier this year, the ACLU released a report, based on
30,000 pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act, that described hundreds of cases of abuse
of immigrant children in US custody between 2009 and 2014.
Customs and Border Protection issued a statement calling the
report "unfounded and baseless."
Through the work of Families Belong Together and a legal
team assembled for this case, D.L., her mother, and her
father have now all been reunited.
According to D.L.'s mother, when the family came together
again, the young girl was confused. "I hugged her, I was
crying. She didn't recognize me," the mother said. "She 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 behaved like she was still in detention. She wouldn't
touch me, hug me, or kiss me."
"It lasted for a couple of days," said D.L's mother. "She
didn't know I was her mom. She thought I was another social
D.L.'s mother reports that her girl is getting better
everyday, but the trauma of the ordeal lingers. "She is
still behaving following the rules of the detention center,"
said the mother. "She doesn't let them touch her, she
doesn't touch them. She wakes up at 6, and bathes and eats.
She behaves like she is programmed."
"She says, 'Please don't return me to Guatemala, I don't
want to go back to that place where I have to sleep alone
with the other kids,'" added the mother.
D.L.'s father was anxious as well, since he hadn't seen his
daughter in a long time. "She recognized me quicker because
of all of the photos that she had seen and because I spoke
with her many times while she was in the shelter," recounted
"My morale was so low," the father says of the time they
were all separated. But now, "When I had my wife and
daughter with me, I felt so good. I knew that now that I had
them at my side, they would be protected, I would be able to
protect them again. I don't know what to hope for. I don't
know what will happen. But I think that whatever happens
will be good, because we are all three together again."
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