NATIONAL CITY, Calif. (AP) – The U.S. Border Patrol drew criticism Friday for video that shows agents pulling a woman away from her anguished daughters on a street to arrest her on immigration violations.
The agency said Perla Morales-Luna was an “identified as an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization” but offered no information to support the claim. It is seeking to deport her for being in the country illegally and has said nothing about pursuing smuggling-related charges.
Video of the woman being pulled from her daughters on March 3 in National City, a San Diego suburb, drew nearly 10 million views on Facebook by Friday afternoon. At least one person can be heard crying uncontrollably as agents forced her into a vehicle and drove away.
The woman’s attorney, Andres Moreno II, said agents left the daughters – ages 17, 15 and 12 – alone on the street. The children, all U.S. citizens, are now living with family in the San Diego area.
Morales-Luna, 36, is a single mother who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 15 years old, 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.
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 Friday for deportation proceedings, said agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack. She referred questions about alleged smuggling activities to the Border Patrol, which did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
Moreno said he will fight his client’s deportation.
Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico border program and frequent critic of the Border Patrol, said questions remain but that it appeared the agents acted inappropriately.
“It doesn’t seem as though they care to know if the children will be cared for,” he said.
Immigrants in the country illegally and their families have been on edge as deportation arrests have spiked more than 40 percent under 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 were 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.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.