Agents Duck Liability on Abuse of Illegal Minors

     SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CN) – Undocumented minors who were sexually abused at a shelter cannot sue the federal agents responsible for their care, a federal judge ruled.
     Away From Home Inc. ran a facility in Nixon, Texas, that housed undocumented minors with pending immigration issues.
     In 2007 Belinda Leal pleaded guilty to molesting four children during her brief stint as a care worker at the facility. She is currently serving time in a state prison for sexual assault.
     A group of Central American men, including three of the victims Leal admitted to harming, sued the U.S. government, Leal, Away From Home and a number of other individuals, in February 2008.
     The men sought relief for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse allegedly inflicted on them by various staff members during their stay at the Nixon facility. Their complaint alleges violations of the 1997 class-action settlement in Flores v. Reno, which encouraged less restrictive housing for unaccompanied minors in federal custody.
     U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez dealt a blow to the men’s case on Friday when he nixed the claims for deliberate indifference against three officials from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 assigned the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children to the federal agency.
     Federal Field Specialist Supervisor James De La Cruz, Federal Field Specialist Jose Gonzalez and Project Officer Tsegaye Wolde deserve qualified immunity, according to the 83-page order.
     “Plaintiffs fail to establish that defendants were actually aware of a significant risk of abuse, that the risk of abuse was obvious, or that they deliberately disregarded or ignored such a risk,” Rodriguez wrote. “To the extent defendants were made aware of abuses or risk of abuse, defendants took steps to address them and to protect residents from future abuse. Their conduct was objectively reasonable. To the extent their response was ineffective, it nevertheless demonstrated concern rather than deliberate indifference.
     “Plaintiffs’ failure to train, failure to supervise, and failure to adopt policy claims also fail because there was no such failure or, assuming there was such a failure, it was not the cause of the constitutional violation. Even if there was such a failure and it was the cause of the constitutional violation, defendants were not deliberately indifferent.”
     In a separate 84-page order issued the same day, Rodriguez dismissed the men’s federal tort claims for lack of jurisdiction. Rodriguez gave the parties two weeks to notify him of any pending claims.

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