SAN DIEGO (CBSLA) — An attorney representing a woman whose arrest by border patrol agents has gone viral said his client has “no idea” why officials are saying she is involved in a major criminal smuggling operation.
“We’ve checked all the court records. We don’t see any criminal charges ever filed against her in any capacity,” said Andres Moreno at a press conference Friday. He is an attorney representing Perla Morales-Luna, the woman arrested in the video.
“She’s never been arrested for anything as far as we can tell, so we’re at bit of a loss as to why they’re alleging the alien smuggling issue,” Moreno continued.
Moreno said he plans to fight his client’s subsequent deportation proceeding.
Video of the 36-year-old mother’s arrest in National City went viral after a teacher’s aide who works with one of Morales-Luna’s children posted it to her Facebook page Thursday morning. It shows Morales-Luna struggling with Customs and Border Protection agents as her screaming daughters look on.
CBP followed up their earlier claim on Twitter that Morales-Luna was involved in a smuggling operation by posting a detailed description of her case Friday.
In it, they allege 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 to a stash house in National City as part of a larger transnational criminal organization.”
CBP defended its agents’ actions, saying Morales-Luna resisted arrest, “even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators.”
The tweet goes on to say Morales-Luna eluded immigration officials after having contact with them, making her a flight risk. CBP said she “has been processed for removal” and will have a hearing before an immigration judge.
At Friday’s press conference, activist Mark Lane said Morales-Luna was arrested for being undocumented. “Because it looks bad for the agency, they engage in these smear tactics against these women,” Lane said.
Morales-Luna reportedly came to the United States without legal documentation at the age of fifteen.
Judith Castro-Rangel, who recorded the video, asked reporters, “How many more videos of young children do we have to see screaming so that their parents aren’t taken away the way that they are?”
“It’s not right, and we need justice,” Castro-Rangel continued.
Morales-Luna is being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. She has arranged for her sister to care for her three daughters, aged 17, 15 and 12.
The following is the full text CBP’s aforementioned tweet:
“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 organisation 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 approlved 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.”