San Diego

Mother's Arrest by CBP in Front of Daughters Sparks Outrage

A video that shows a woman being arrested in front of her three daughters on a National City sidewalk has prompted outrage on social media and within the local community.

Perla Morales-Luna, 36, of Mexico was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Saturday near 24th and D streets in National City.

Video obtained by NBC 7 showed two men in plain clothing and a uniformed U.S. Border Patrol agent taking Morales-Luna into custody and placing her in the back of a CBP patrol vehicle. 

In the video, Morales-Luna's three daughters can be heard sobbing and calling for "mom" as she was taken into custody. 

CBP said Morales-Luna was arrested for being in the country illegally. Agent Michael J. Scappechio said Morales-Luna has been arrested previously but would not confirm the charge. 

In a statement released Friday, Border Patrol said Morales-Luna was part of a transnational human smuggling network. CBP said Morales-Luna recruited drivers to transport undocumented immigrants from eastern San Diego County to a "stash house" in National City. 

CBP said her arrest followed direct contact with Morales-Luna where they asked her to surrender. 

"The video clearly shows the arresting agents carried out their duties appropriately, even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators," the statement said. Read the statement in full here

Moreno said the issue is not with the border patrol's job but the way they do their jobs. 

"Everybody wants them to do their jobs," Moreno said. "It’s how they do their jobs that’s causing a problem in this particular situation."

He said his client, who has been in the country since she was 15, is the single parent to three daughters who are U.S. citizens.

Morales-Luna was on her way to pay her rent on Saturday when she was arrested in an immigration sweep. 

Moreno said she has no criminal record. 

"To go from no criminal history to she’s part of this elaborate scheme, and then process her as a non-criminal alien … that’s what’s wrong,” Moreno said. 

He added that being in the country without legal documentation is a civil matter in the courts, not a criminal one. 

"Where’s the proof of the allegation? Where’s the criminal charges? Where’s the indictment? We don’t have any of that," Moreno said. "If she’s a criminal, why is she being processed administratively?"

"It’s not right that she’s been separated from her family as a result of simply being here illegally,” Moreno said.

Border patrol said in cases of undocumented immigrants, agents can turn them over to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution, or they can be processed for deportation.  

Morales-Luna was turned over to ICE on Friday and awaiting a deportation hearing at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility, according to CBP. An immigration judge will make the final determination. 

The National City community showed their support for Morales-Luna and her daughters after the video started spreading on social media. 

National City Councilmember Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said she was alerted to the incident through social media comments and tags. When she heard the daughters' screams she said she felt "sad" and "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 said.

"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," Sotelo-Solis said.

One of Morales-Luna's teenage daughters is a student at a Chula Vista charter school. When the school found out about Morales-Luna's detainment, the school looked for ways to support the children, Sotelo-Solis said. 

Judith Castro, one of the daughter's teachers, told NBC 7 she shared the video on social media because she couldn’t believe a mother could be taken away from her children in that manner.

"Honestly I couldn’t watch the whole thing," Castro said. "Just seeing a mom being approached by agents who are dressed in civilian clothing, with no badges to be seen, and just literally dragging the mom away into the border patrol truck."

CBP said agents did leave the scene as soon as the arrest was made, but Morales-Luna was allowed to contact her sister to take custody of her children. 

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