NEW: The girl is now in a shelter in El Paso
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrests 16 people traveling in a van
One of them is a 6-year-old girl, who says she is from El Salvador
A 6-year-old girl, detained in Arizona on suspicion of entering the United States illegally, is now at a shelter in El Paso, Texas, as authorities try to locate a relative.
The girl, who told authorities she is from El Salvador, had to be moved to El Paso because there is no room in Arizona shelters for minors in her situation, said Jose Joaquin Chacon, the consul general for El Salvador in Arizona.
The girl was traveling with her mother through Mexico, Chacon said, but for some unknown reason the mother apparently turned her daughter over to smugglers at the U.S. border and separated from her.
The unaccompanied child was detained along with 15 other people traveling in a van through Maricopa County late Friday, hours after President Barack Obama had announced a decision to stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years.
The people in the van were planning to make their way to a variety of destinations around the country – including New York, California and Texas – according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough stance against illegal immigration, is a vocal opponent of President Obama’s immigration policies.
“There was no politics involved in this,” he said. “And when you have a 6-year-old girl, I think that’s newsworthy regardless of what the circumstances are – whether you call it an arrest or a detention.”
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office explained that the girl “was not arrested in the sense of handcuffed and booked into jail. However, she was detained in our custody and turned over to ICE officials.”
After the sheriff’s office handed the girl over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, she was placed in “the care and custody” of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said Amber Cargile, an ICE spokeswoman.
The girl ended up in El Paso, Chacon said.
Most of those detained were being held in jail, the sheriff’s statement said.
Last week, Arpaio said that the Obama administration’s new directive not to deport some young migrants was motivated by politics.
Arpaio said he would abide by the directive but continue to enforce state laws on illegal immigration as he sees fit.
The rule change will allow people younger than 30 who had come to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and have been successful students or served in the military to apply for a two-year deferral from deportation.
Individuals must be able to prove they have been living in the country continuously for at least five years.
CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Glenda Umana and Sonya Hamasaki contributed to this report.