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Woman's Immigration Arrest in California Draws Criticism


FILE - U.S. Border Patrol agents pick up immigrants suspected of crossing into the United States illegally along the Rio Grande near Granjeno, Texas, Aug. 11, 2017.

Video of a woman being pulled away from her anguished daughters on a California street and quickly driven off in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle has sparked criticism of the way federal agents are enforcing immigration laws.

The Border Patrol said Perla Morales-Luna was identified as an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization and was arrested March 3 for being in the country illegally.

The woman's attorney, Andres Moreno II, said Friday that he was shocked by video posted on social media that showed the arrest in National City, south of San Diego.

"You can do your job without causing such a dramatic separation of family members," Moreno said. "She's a single mother. She was walking with her three minor children. The officers came up and ripped her away from her kids, threw her in the car and left her kids on the street."

Moreno said his client denies the allegation of involvement in smuggling. She has not been charged with any smuggling crimes and the Border Patrol has offered no evidence of that.

In custody

The Border Patrol, which characterized the arrest as a "targeted operation," said Thursday that Morales-Luna was in the agency's custody awaiting transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for removal proceedings.

The attorney said he would fight deportation of Morales-Luna, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at 15.

Morales-Luna's daughters, ages 17, 15 and 12, are staying with relatives in the San Diego area.

The arrest drew the social media spotlight amid heightened focus on immigrants who are in the county illegally.

The Trump administration sued this week to block a California law that limits local police cooperation with federal immigration agents.

The administration contends the law impedes removal of criminals, but supporters of sanctuary laws characterize them as public safety measures and assert that police need cooperation from immigrant communities to fight crime.

Fears of ramped-up deportation efforts recently led Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to issue a public warning of an impending immigration sweep, saying the city would "continue to inform all residents about their constitutional rights."

President Donald Trump plans to visit California next week to examine prototypes of the wall he pledges to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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