Border Patrol officials in Southern California are defending their actions after a dramatic video of agents arresting an undocumented mother as her daughters watched on went viral this week.
The video, filmed last Saturday, shows agents pulling 36-year-old Perla Morales-Luna away from her crying daughters on a street corner in National City, California. The agents drive off quickly after placing Morales-Luna in the backseat of a Border Patrol vehicle, and her daughters appear to be left on the street confused.
Judith Castro-Rangel, who identifies herself as a teacher of one of Morales-Luna’s daughters, posted the video on Thursday to Facebook, where it has been viewed more than 10 million times.
The violent and insensitive nature of the arrest has outraged human rights and immigration activists.
The Border Patrol has accused Morales-Luna of being 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.”
The allegation came in a late Friday statement in which the agency also claimed that Morales-Luna was among a group of individuals who were arrested in a “smuggling event” that took place in January. It also added she had “eluded” that arrest and had refused to self-surrender “despite phone conversations” between her and Border Patrol.
In an interview with HuffPost, Morales-Luna’s attorney Andrés Moreno II denied that his client had any involvement with a criminal organization, adding that Morales-Luna didn’t know why she was being detained until immigration agents already had her in custody.
Moreno also said that he wasn’t aware of any phone calls that took place between Morales-Luna and Border Patrol.
“She has not been charged with doing anything criminal,” Moreno said of his client, who he claimed has been here since she was 15 years old. “She has no criminal history at all.”
Moreno told HuffPost that his client was with her three daughters, ages 12, 15 and 17, on their way to pay rent when a plainclothes officer approached Morales-Luna. After she identified herself to the officer, he said border patrol agents arrested her.
Morales-Luna was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday morning, where Moreno said her case will be processed. Border Patrol confirmed in their statement that she “has been processed for removal.”
Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco told the Los Angeles Times that Morales-Luna was being held on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
Border Patrol defended their actions on Friday by saying their agents had acted “appropriately.”
“The video clearly shows the arresting agents carried out their duties appropriately, even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators,” the agency said in a statement.
However, human rights groups and local residents detested the agency’s actions, calling the arrest “inhumane” and “grotesque.”
“It’s really a grotesque way of detaining and enforcing immigration law,” Benjamin Prado of the American Friends Service Committee’s San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program, told the Los Angeles Times. The American Friends Service Committee is a human rights group that works with migrant and border communities.
“It is very quickly accelerating to a very tyrannical form of detention and arrest, snatching people up off the street,” he said.
“Our biggest concern is the manner in which this raid took place, the violent manner in which they detained her and pushed her in,” Prado added. “The terror and trauma that is being imposed on the children, her daughters.”
Protesters gathered around City Hall offices in National City on Friday morning to protest the mother’s arrest, according to local news stations.
Morales-Luna’s attorney, who practices immigration law, said that while the video of his client’s arrest has gone viral, raids like this have become commonplace.
“What happened today got caught on video, that’s why it has blown up,” Moreno told HuffPost. “But what happened is happening in every state in the union today.”
Reports of immigration raids happen frequently. On one early morning in January, immigration agents cracked down on 100 7-11 stores across the country and arrested 21 people.
The arrests have prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the Trump administration for allowing the Department of Homeland Security to separate migrant parents from their children for no reason.
After seeing video of the arrest, National City Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis told NBC 7 San Diego that she was “infuriated.”
“This is actually one of our quarters where we have mass transit, so to have something like this go down, in the broad daylight, it really is concerning,” Sotelo-Solis told the news station.
“What was posted I think really showed the inhumane treatment of that woman being physically ripped from her children and then leaving the minor children here on the street not knowing what to do,” she added.
Moreno told HuffPost late Friday that his client has not been presented with any criminal charges and maintained that there is no evidence proving the Border Patrol’s claims against her.
“Allegations do not make a criminal, and they have not charged her with any crimes,” Moreno said. “Last I checked in this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty until the government has charged you with a crime.”
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to clarify that the agency communicating about the arrest in question was Border Patrol, which is federal and not a California agency.