A viral video shows Border Patrol agents pushing a mother into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection SUV as her three daughters stand watching screaming and crying in horror.
“Where is she going?” one of the girls, who all appear to be teens, sobs as the car drives away with her mother.
Perla Morales-Luna was arrested Saturday in National City, Calif., near San Diego, as she was walking with her daughters to pay rent.
A statement from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in San Diego says Morales “was identified as an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization operating in East County, San Diego” and “arrested as a result of a targeted operation on March 3 … for being in the country illegally.”
A video capturing the emotional scene of the mother being torn from her children was posted on Facebook Thursday and has since gone viral. A teacher of one of the daughters posted the video.
Judith Castro told NBC 7 News in San Diego, “”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.”
Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco told the Los Angeles Times that he did not have details on Morales’ involvement in smuggling and that she is being held on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
Agent Michael J. Scappechio told NBC 7 that Morales-Perla has been arrested in the past, but he did not reveal the charge.
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 CBP statement says Morales-Luna is in the custody of Border Patrol and will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for removal proceedings.
Perla Morales-Luna was identified as an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization operating in East County, San Diego. She was arrested as a result of a targeted operation on March 3, 2018, in National City for being in the country illegally.
— CBP San Diego (@CBPSanDiego) March 9, 2018
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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