NATIONAL CITY, Calif. (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol said Friday that agents acted appropriately during the videotaped arrest of a woman who was pulled away from her anguished daughters on a street in National City.
The agency said 36-year-old Perla Morales Luna recruited drivers to take people who crossed the border illegally to a house in National City.
The agency put her in deportation proceedings and is not pursuing smuggling charges.
Video of the woman being pulled from her daughters on March 3 in the San Diego suburb had drawn nearly 10 million views on Facebook by Friday afternoon. At least one person can be heard crying uncontrollably as agents forced Morales-Luna into a vehicle and drove away.
The woman’s attorney, Andres Moreno II, said agents left the daughters — 17, 15 and 12 — alone on the street. The children, all U.S. citizens, are now living with family in the San Diego area.
The Border Patrol issued a more detailed response as criticism mounted. It said Morales-Luna declined to turn herself in after being contacted by phone in the smuggling investigation, and that she tried to flee in a nearby vehicle when agents confronted her on the street.
The following is a statement from the United States Border Patrol, San Diego:
Perla Morales-Luna was identified as a human smuggling facilitator who recruited drivers to transport illegal aliens from a remote border area in Eastern San Diego County to a stash house in National City as part of a larger transnational criminal organization. Other individuals associated with this criminal organization were arrested shortly after a smuggling event transpired in January of 2018 near Boulevard, California. Ms. Morales-Luna eluded arrest at that time, and despite direct phone conversations between her and U.S. Border Patrol agents, she refused to self-surrender to authorities. Due to her unwillingness to self-surrender and the fact that she was an illegal alien present in the United States she was deemed a flight risk and a targeted enforcement operation was approved for her arrest.
During the arrest on March 3, 2018, Ms. Morales-Luna refused to comply with the agents’ commands and physically resisted while attempting to abscond into a nearby vehicle. The video clearly shows the arresting agents carried out their duties appropriately, even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators.
Ms. Morales-Luna was the only subject of this operation. Therefore, once she was in custody, agents immediately departed the area. The arresting agents ensured that Ms. Morales-Luna was able to arrange for her sister to take custody of her three children.
The United States Border Patrol is committed to dismantling transnational criminal organizations who profit from cross-border smuggling of humans, dangerous narcotics, weapons and other illicit contraband. Anyone that the U.S. Border Patrol can identify as part of these criminal organizations will be arrested and presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution. In the case of an illegal alien, they may be processed for removal from the United States in lieu of prosecution.
Ms. Morales-Luna has been processed for removal, issued a Notice to Appear and transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement Removal Operations. She will have a hearing before an Immigration Judge who will make the final decision in this case.
Morales-Luna arranged for her sister to take custody of her children but not until after agents whisked her away, according to the Border Patrol.
The agency said officers faced “a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators” during the arrest.
Michael Scappechio, a spokesman, said safety concerns prompted agents to leave before letting Morales-Luna call her sister.
Morales-Luna is a single mother who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 15, Moreno said.
She was walking with her daughters to pay rent when agents stopped her in what the Border Patrol said was “the result of a targeted operation.”
“You can do your job without causing such a dramatic separation of family members,” Moreno said. “It’s overkill.”
Morales-Luna denies being part of a smuggling organization and “has no idea what they’re talking about,” Moreno said before the Border Patrol issued its more detailed statement.
Judith Castro-Rangel, who identifies herself as a special education aide on Facebook, posted the video on Thursday. She did not respond to an email and a receptionist at her school said she was not immediately available.
The Border Patrol transferred Morales-Luna to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for deportation proceedings, said agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack. She referred questions about alleged smuggling activities to the Border Patrol.
Moreno said he will fight his client’s deportation.
Immigrants in the country illegally and their families have been on edge as deportation arrests have spiked more than 40 percent under President Donald Trump.
The administration has said it targets people with criminal records, but many others are getting picked up. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said 65 percent of arrests from October to December involved criminals, compared to 82 percent during the final full three months of the Obama administration.
National City, a working-class suburb of about 60,000 people, is near the border wall prototypes that Trump plans to visit next week.
The prototypes are intended to guide future designs of the wall he pledges to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Chance of light rain for Thanksgiving Thursday. Temperatures cool and onshore wind flow strengthens throughout the week.
San Diego Police on Sunday were investigating an attack that left a man with injuries he is not expected to survive.
A damaged fire hydrant caused a large geyser and street flooding in the Colina Del Sol neighborhood, just south of Talmadge on Sunday.
Nearly 3,000 migrants are currently living in the Tijuana, Mexico, and thousands more are expected to arrive in the coming days. On Sunday, Tijuana residents gathered around a monument to express their concerns, many calling it an "invasion."
Walkers participating in The Susan G. Komen 3-Day San Diego - including News 8’s own Barbara-Lee Edwards - finished their 60-mile journey on Sunday. The annual walk, which supports breast cancer research and programs, raised $6.3 million this according to Komen officials.
Residents of Malibu forced to evacuate because of the Woolsey Fire continued returning to their homes Sunday while others received notice they could return by Monday, as the estimated date for full containment of the fire was moved back to Thursday, and a rain forecast for Wednesday was creating new fears of possible mudslides.
One California family is still managing to look on the bright side, after enduring 48 hours of horror.
On your marks, get set—start thawing! That’s right, Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl for home cooking, is this week. And if you’re cooking a turkey and the Thanksgiving feast for your family or your friends, you need to start thinking about safe cooking right now, including thawing the bird!
All northbound lanes of Interstate 5 will be closed from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Sunday night and continuing through Tuesday, according to the San Diego Association of Governments.