The illegal immigrant whose arrest by Border Patrol in southern California has gone viral online was a fairly high-level operator in an alien smuggling ring affiliated with a cartel, sources told The Washington Times.
The woman, Perla Morales-Luna, was nabbed by agents last week while walking with her daughters, according to videos of the arrest posted on Facebook Thursday.
The videos garnered more than 10 million views in less than 24 hours and ignited a searing debate over immigration enforcement just days before President Trump is due to visit the area to look at prototypes of his planned border wall.
Immigrant-rights groups said the video of agents separating the woman from her children is evidence of an immigration operation run amok, spreading fear in communities.
Activists said these kinds of cases aren’t singular — but this time there were several bystanders who caught it on video.
Pedro Rios, program director at the American Friends Service Committee’s San Diego office, said it showed “the level of impunity that agents operate with.”
“When agents essentially snatch a mother from her children without any consideration of welfare and safety, knowing they’re being videotaped, I think there is a level of comfort that the enforcement agencies have in operating in this way,” he said.
Several Border Patrol sources said Ms. Morales was being mistakenly portrayed. They said she was not a low-level cartel flunky but was “intimately involved” in human smuggling operations, which made her a priority target for agents.
“They were looking for her,” one source said.
In an official statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Ms. Morales was arrested “for being in the country illegally” as part of a targeted operation.
She was being held by Homeland Security pending deportation proceedings.
William Baker, her lawyer, told The Times that they’ll ask for her to be released and reunited with her three U.S. citizen daughters while she fights the deportation case against her.
And he said the fact that the Border Patrol is pursuing immigration proceedings against her rather than charging her with smuggling crimes undercuts the agents’ claims of criminal behavior.
“A mom walking with children on the street shouldn’t be treated in that matter,” he said.
The video made the rounds of social media Thursday and Friday, and sparked outrage from Latino advocates and anti-Trump progressive activists.
“Your tax dollars at work,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, on Twitter. “Mother ripped away from her crying daughters by Border Patrol agents on a Southern California street corner. America in the age of Trump. Meanwhile, Congress on verge of giving Trump’s deportation force billions more.”
Mr. Trump has proposed $25 billion to build new and replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and to hire more agents and expand technology to stop migrants attempting to sneak in.
The plans have stalled in Congress, where Democrats who just five years ago voted for a massive wall-building campaign now oppose it. Mr. Trump has insisted his wall, as well as major policy changes to legal immigration, must be part of any deal to legalize illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”