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Following Immigration Arrest Caught On Video, National City Residents Strategize To Protect Undocumented Neighbors

Francisco Duarte, his son Francisco Duarte and Rosenda Perez speak at a press...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Francisco Duarte, his son Francisco Duarte and Rosenda Perez speak at a press conference following the March 3 Border Patrol arrest of Perla Morales-Luna, March 9, 2018.

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National City residents plan to meet over the weekend to establish neighborhood watch groups and other measures to warn neighbors of Border Patrol activity in their community. The effort comes after videos of agents arresting a National City woman in front of her three daughters went viral.

A San Diego-area Border Patrol spokesman issued a statement saying Perla Morales-Luna was "an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization operating in East County."

Morales-Luna's attorney, Andrés Moreno II, said Morales-Luna adamantly denies this and has a clean record. As of Friday morning, an online federal database showed no charges were filed against her in U.S. District Court.

Photo credit: Judith Castro-Rangel / Facebook

A screen grab of a Facebook video shows Perla Morales-Luna allegedly being arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in National City, March 8, 2018.

Moreno, along with several community activists at a press conference called Border Patrol out for separating families. Video of the arrest shows Morales-Luna's teenage daughters screaming as agents — some in uniform and some in plain clothes — pull the mother away from them and put her in a Border Patrol vehicle. The car drives away, leaving the girls stunned and alone on the street corner.

"The Border Patrol officers literally take their keys, hand them over and that’s it. No explanation as to why they’re taking their mother, no comfort. There’s no compassion in the way that this woman was taken," said Judith Castro, who teaches the girls at MAAC Charter School in Chula Vista and is acting as a spokeswoman for the family. "What I can tell you about these little girls is that they’re strong, and I want to put that out there."

Moreno said, under the previous administration, Morales-Luna wouldn’t have been picked up on the street. Many who were contacted by authorities for deportation usually received a notice to appear in court for immigration proceedings and could remain at home while awaiting a ruling.

"Border Patrol and ICE have the ability to process these people. They have the right to do that. The question that we’re really discussing here is how should they do that? That’s really what this country needs to have a debate on," he said. "Do we want to separate these families when we’re trying to process people for removal? We’ve never really done that before. This is new."

RELATED: Asylum-Seeking Mother Reunited With Her Baby After US Kept Apart For Weeks

Though the Trump administration hasn't set official policy on separating families, former Homeland Security Sec. John Kelly said it was considering separating families that cross the border into the United States as a deterrence measure.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government last month on behalf of one migrant who was separated from her daughter. The group announced a class-action lawsuit against the practice Friday.

A federal database initially showed Morales-Luna, a single mother, would be sent to Arizona for detention. As of noon Friday, she was being detained in Otay Mesa. An uncle is caring for the children.

Photo by Megan Burks

Francisco Duarte, his son Francisco Duarte and Rosenda Perez speak at a press conference following the March 3 Border Patrol arrest of Perla Morales-Luna, March 9, 2018.

This is not the first time Border Patrol agents have arrested a National City parent in front of their children. In May they arrested Francisco Duarte and Rosenda Perez at home while their children were getting ready for school. Two 12-year-olds and a 17-year-old were left in the care of their 19-year-old brother.

Perez was released shortly after and Duarte got out on bond seven months later. Both are still being pursued for deportation but remain at home.

The family appeared at Friday's press conference.

"We need to change things as community residents. We need to do something, National City, because we cannot let this become something normal," said Yarely Duarte, 12, her comments written in a yellow children's diary decorated with stars and hearts.

Photo by Megan Burks

Aracely and Yarely Duarte, both 12, speak at a press conference following the March 3 Border Patrol arrest of Perla Morales-Luna, March 9, 2018.

National City resident Mark Lane works for an attorney and said he used to get one to two calls a week from families impacted by immigration enforcement activities. He said now he gets as many as 15 a day. He said Border Patrol has stepped up its presence in National City, particularly near affordable housing complexes.

He's bringing together members of the community Sunday to strategize ways to protect undocumented residents, such as assigning lookouts at each complex and establishing a protocol that warns residents and gets attorneys and other advocates to the scene when agents are present.

National City already calls itself a "compassionate city," signalling to undocumented residents that they are welcome there. But that does not prevent federal authorities from conducting enforcement activities in the city. Sanctuary cities are also not insulated from immigration enforcement.

Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions is suing California for its sanctuary laws. Four Republican lawmakers are asking him to expand the lawsuit to include municipalities and their elected officials.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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