PHOENIX — With no fanfare, the Trump administration is quietly placing very young children with the Arizona Child Crisis Center. U.S. officials maintain the children arrived at the border unaccompanied, but immigration activists accuse immigration authorities of separating the children from family members.
Since June, the Arizona Child Crisis Center has been accepting children up to five years of age. A federal source tells ABC15 there are approximately one dozen children in the care of the center now, with the youngest being ten months old.
"Some of the children are probably still breastfeeding," said Esther Duran Lumm with the immigrant rights group Uncage and Reunite Families.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement oversees the care of immigrants in government custody. It defines a child as unaccompanied when either its parents are accused of breaking U.S. law and taken into custody or the child arrives at the border without any relatives.
"I see that as one of the excuses the federal government uses to separate the children," Lumm said. "If they are with a relative, undoubtedly they have the permission of the parent to bring those children into the country."
Torrie Taj is the CEO of Child Crisis Arizona. Taj says she can only confirm the agency has a contract with the federal government to care for the children and reunite them with their families as quickly as possible. Her organization has cared for some of Arizona's most vulnerable children.
"We've been providing emergency shelter care services for 45 years," Taj said. "We saw a unique opportunity to assist unaccompanied children who were being kept at border facilities."
Taj deferred other questions regarding the specifics about the immigrant children in the center's care to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. ORR would not answer any of those questions directly, pointing instead to guidelines posted on its website.
"We think the majority of the American people don't know the gravity of what is going on," Lumm said. Of increasing concern for Lumm and others in the Latino community is a suspicion some of the immigrant children listed as unaccompanied are being put up for adoption.
"There is no evidence, but there is a lot of rumor, and you know what they say, 'Where there's smoke, there's fire,'" she said.
Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ) is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He says he wants to know what happens to the unaccompanied children once they arrive in Phoenix. Customs and Border Protection administrators will appear before his committee next week to explain its family separation policy.