- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2022

Federal prosecutors have brought charges against a family they say conspired to smuggle a 10-year-old illegal immigrant girl into the country and then put her through a living hell in which she was raped repeatedly, stabbed with a kitchen knife and subjected to regular beatings.

The case is one of the more horrific examples of immigrants abusing the “family loophole” in border policy, with an overwhelmed federal government assisting in the abuse.

In this instance, that meant accepting the word of the illegal immigrant family that they were related to two Guatemalan girls. The government approved the family as sponsors and delivered the girls to situations that turned out to be nightmares.

One cooperating witness told investigators she saw one of the girls beaten on at least 20 occasions. Another time, the witness saw a “tear” near the girl’s mouth and the girl said her sponsor, Catarina Domingo-Juan, came at her with a knife because the girl failed to cook a meal properly, according to court documents.

In the most horrifying of accusations, investigators said the girl was raped by four members of Catarina Domingo-Juan’s family, including her two sons. The girl, identified in documents only as Victim 1, became pregnant and then had a miscarriage.

It’s the sort of case those following the surge of illegal immigrant children at the border have always known existed — but feared finding out about.

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“This case is truly sickening. But it’s also terribly frustrating because the federal government is fully aware of the potential for such awful things to be done to young kids under the current system, but refuses to put in place policies to prevent it,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The girl identified in court documents as Victim 1 arrived in 2016, during the Obama administration. She was 10 at the time.

A girl identified as Victim 2 arrived in June 2019, at the peak of the migrant surge under President Trump.

Victim 1 was brought across the border on Feb. 13, 2016, by Domingo Francisco-Juan, Catarina Domingo-Juan’s brother.

Francisco-Juan claimed to be the 10-year-old’s father and managed to finagle her mother into putting his name on her birth certificate, manufacturing bogus proof of the relationship. He promised the mother that the 10-year-old would have a better life in the U.S. with him.

Francisco-Juan had at least six previous deportations and what investigators called an “extensive criminal history.” He was deported. 

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He seemingly coached the 10-year-old to ask officials that she be sent to live with her “aunt” in Illinois.

That turned out to be Catarina Domingo-Juan, who was not related to the girl at all.

Records from the federal Health and Human Services Department, which takes charge of most illegal immigrant children, claim that a worker verified the relationship, checked fingerprints and scrutinized proof of income and address.

On April 4, less than two months after she arrived, Victim 1 was delivered to Illinois and to Catarina Domingo-Juan, where her hell began.

The beatings started six months in, the girl told investigators. By age 12, she was sent to work outside the home after school. Fake identities claimed she was old enough to work and was a legal resident. Catarina Domingo-Juan stole all of her paychecks.

The girl at one point told a confidante she wasn’t getting any sleep because she was forced to cook, clean and watch the younger children in the house. The confidante, who would become a cooperating witness for investigators, was struck by the good care for Catarina Domingo-Juan’s children while the migrant girl “appeared dirty, unhealthy and had marks on her body.”

The witness said she saw Catarina Domingo-Juan beat the girl on 20 to 25 occasions. During one family party, the confidante saw a wound on the girl’s mouth. The girl said Catarina Domingo-Juan attacked her with a knife after she botched cooking a meal.

The witness said the girl had already lost a tooth and had another cut mark on her arm.

For five years, Catarina Domingo-Juan blocked the girl’s attempts to talk to her mother in Guatemala. At one point, the mother did confront Catarina Domingo-Juan and demanded that the girl be sent to an uncle’s home. The woman told the mother she would have to pay $15,000 before the girl was set free.

The girl identified as Victim 2 was sent to live with Lorenza Domingo-Castaneda, a sister of Catarina Domingo-Juan and Domingo Francisco-Juan.

She told investigators she was forced to work by doing housekeeping inside the home and at a hotel and a plastic packaging plant outside the home.

Authorities appear to have tipped to the case in 2021 after Victim 1 showed up at a Missouri hospital, where doctors determined she’d had a miscarriage. She said she didn’t know she was pregnant until then.

She is one of about 450,000 children who have crossed the border over the past eight years, deemed unaccompanied by a parent and sent to live with sponsors. That’s equivalent to a city the size of Miami.

All of them flowed through the federal Health and Human Services Department, which under the law is in charge of their care and placement.

HHS didn’t respond to requests for comment on its handling of this case.

The department has come under fire for being too relaxed about checking relationships and safety in homes where it places children. Critics say HHS rushes to get children out the door and then washes its hands of them by failing to conduct meaningful follow-ups.

Under current rules, HHS has sponsors sign a form committing to provide safe homes and ensuring that the children show up for their immigration court hearings.

During the Trump administration, the department tried to impose check-in requirements so federal authorities could gain some visibility into the welfare of the children. HHS also stiffened checks on those applying to be sponsors.

The Biden administration, facing an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied children that strained resources, reversed the Trump changes and scrapped the plans for check-in requirements to get children out the door faster.

Ms. Vaughan said the current administration has also cut back on DNA testing of suspected fake families at the border and abandoned worksite enforcement that might spot illegal immigrant children working as adults.

She said cases like the one in Illinois serve as a contrast with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ position that his lenient immigration policies are more humane.

“In fact, he is an accomplice to this kind of trafficking and abuse because he has implemented the policies that enable it,” Mr. Vaughan said. “It shouldn’t take a rape and miscarriage to discover this abuse.”

On Capitol Hill, some immigration experts say part of the problem is allowing children to be placed with people who are themselves illegal immigrants. Not only does that serve as an incentive for parents to send their children on the dangerous journey but it also means they are likely to end up in transient circumstances.

Catarina Domingo-Juan and Lorenza Domingo-Castaneda were in the country illegally — as was Domingo Francisco-Juan, who, according to court documents, managed to sneak back several times after that 2016 deportation.

Catarina Domingo-Juan has pleaded guilty to using a false identity to gain work.

Domingo Francisco-Juan faces charges of reentering the U.S. after deportation.

They, along with Lorenza Domingo-Castaneda, were indicted this month on kidnapping and forced labor charges.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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