A woman who was arrested by Border Patrol agents on a National City street as her three children stood by was released from federal custody Tuesday night.
Perla Morales-Luna, 36, was on her way to pay her rent when she was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on March 3 near 24th and D streets.
At a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon, an immigration judge determined that she was not a threat to her community or a flight risk and ordered her release from the Otay Mesa Detention Facility on her own recognizance.
She was met by hugs, kisses, flowers and signs from family and friends when she stepped off of an ICE bus in San Ysidro at around 9:30 p.m.
CBP said Morales-Luna was part of a transnational human smuggling networkin which she was responsible for recruiting drivers to transport undocumented immigrants from eastern San Diego County to a "stash house" 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.
“I feel my client has been vindicated in regards to this process,” her attorney Andres Moreno II said. “You can’t get a better bond result than what we got today.”
Upon her release, she will be free to go back home to her three minor children who depend on her. Her removal case will continue in court downtown.
“It’s been two weeks but it feels like such a long time since I’ve seen my mom and I just want to hug her and I want her to be with me, to be next to me,” Morales-Luna’s daughter Yessica Estrada said after the hearing, knowing only hours stood between her and her mother’s reunion.
Moreno said that nothing about Morales-Luna’s case has been normal, from the fashion in which she was detained to the CBP’s response to criticism of her arrest and their decision not to charge her with any crimes.
“Most people that get alleged criminal convictions for alien smuggling on a federal level, they get charges presented against them. That didn’t happen in this case for my client,” Moreno said. “None of this is normal.”
Moreno said previously that he was at a “bit of a loss” as to the origins of the smuggling allegations.
The video of Morales-Luna’s arrest was widely circulated on social media and led some in the community to criticize CBP’s arrest practices, saying it wasn’t right for her three non-adult children to be left alone with no guardian on a street corner.
CBP released a statement in the days after the arrest that said, in part, that the video “Clearly shows the arresting agents carried out their duties appropriately, even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators.”
In response to the statement, 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."
After her arrest, CBP said that Morales-Luna had been arrested previously but wouldn’t confirm the charge. Moreno maintained that she had no criminal history.
San Diego twins who were thrust into the national spotlight when their own parents were detained by immigration officials, stepped forward after learning about Morales-Luna’s arrest to demand that families not be "brutally separated" by immigration officials in the U.S.
The Duarte girls, just 12 when their parents were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in May 2017, wanted to show their support for Estrada and her two sisters.
“We need to change this as community residents," said Yarely Duarte who was joined by her sister Aracely. "We need to do something, National City. We cannot let this become something normal.”
Morales-Luna family spokesperson Judith Castro, who said her own parents were deported when she was 15, said she said she was sickened at the way the arrest was handled.
“No explanation as to why they’re taking their mother. No comfort. No compassion in the way this woman was taken,” Castro said.
ICE said it would not be commenting on her case.
"Her immigration proceedings remain pending with the immigration court," an ICE spokesperson said. "The Immigration Judge will determine the outcome."
Morales-Luna’s daughters were staying with an aunt while she was in custody.