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Migrant 10-year-old sexually assaulted, given drugs in custody, lawsuit says

The lawsuit by the boy's father says two nonprofits housing migrant children “acted with fraud, malice, and gross neglect” in their treatment of his son.

A Guatemalan father filed a lawsuit against two nonprofits housing migrant children, claiming his 10-year-old son was given “powerful psychotropic drugs” without parental consent and sexually assaulted by another child during his time in government custody.

The father, identified only as J. E. B., claimed in the lawsuit filed in state court in Texas last week that both Southwest Key and Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas “acted with fraud, malice, and gross neglect” in their treatment of his son.

The lawsuit also claims that the boy, identified as F.C.B. in the suit, was subjected to physical assault, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress by both facilities.

The boy was taken into custody when he and his father were separated at the United States-Mexico border in February 2018, the suit alleges. The child was first taken to a shelter run by Southwest Key in Arizona, where he remained until June, and then taken to Shiloh, south of Houston. His father was deported to Guatemala in April.

At Shiloh, the boy was allegedly misdiagnosed and given “powerful psychotropic drugs” — Risperdal and Lexapro — without parental consent, and was sexually assaulted by another child in the last few weeks he was held at the facility, according to the lawsuit.

The suit does not detail the alleged assault.

Image: Shiloh Treatment Center
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“After the sexual assault was reported ... he was viewed as a potential liability, and quickly deported,” the lawsuit claims, adding that the boy was deported in December.

The suit filed in Travis County, Texas, names the two facilities, as well as the owner and operator of Shiloh and the CEO of Southwest Key as defendants. The family is seeking monetary damages.

A spokesperson for Southwest Key said the most serious allegations in the lawsuit were not directed at its shelter.

“We are a federally regulated and state licensed provider of shelter care services to unaccompanied minors,” Southwest Key said in a statement. “We are not a detention facility and our organization’s opposition to the separation of families at the border has never wavered. It was a policy that hurt children, parents and our communities.”

“From the pleadings, it appears none of the serious allegations made in this filing occurred in our shelter, so we cannot comment on them,” the statement said.

Shiloh referred questions to the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A spokesperson with that agency, which oversees the care of unaccompanied and separated migrant children, said Wednesday that as a matter of policy it does not identify individual migrant children and “will not comment on specific cases or pending litigation.”

In a statement on Thursday, an agency spokesperson said the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is under the Administration for Children and Families, is "committed to ensuring the safety" of every migrant child in its care and that the welfare and security of those children "is our number one concern."

Any allegations against government grantees or contractors "is treated with the utmost seriousness," the spokesperson said, adding the agency has "a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior" at all of its care provider facilities.

"We consistently cooperate with local police and child welfare officials when there is an investigation involving" a migrant child," the spokesperson said. While the department "is not a party to the referenced lawsuit, we take abuse allegations at our facilities extremely seriously," the spokesperson added.

In July, a federal judge ruled that the government is required to seek consent or a court order before giving psychotropic drugs to migrant children held at Shiloh unless it’s an emergency.

The ruling came as a result of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of children at Shiloh in April that alleged children being held in such facilities are almost certain to be administered psychotropic drugs regardless of their conditions and without their parents' consent.

Shiloh said in a statement on its website after the court ruling that the allegations against it “have been found to be without merit by multiple regulatory and monitoring bodies.”

“The judge's ruling simply upholds what is already the law, and Shiloh agrees,” the statement said. “Children should not have to remain in a more secure placement than is necessary, and children should not receive medications without consent.”

Last month, a Democratic lawmaker released documents showing that thousands of allegations that migrant children in U.S. custody were subjected to sexual abuse, harassment or inappropriate sexual conduct were reported over a four-year span to the government agency tasked with overseeing their care. Almost 180 of the allegations were of staff committing sexual abuse against migrant children at government-run shelters.

The acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement said in a statement after the release of the documents that the "vast majority" of the claims involved child-on-child allegations of "inappropriate sexual behavior."