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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 conference following the March 3 Border Patrol arrest of Perla Morales-Luna, March 9, 2018.
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.
Activists Hold Press Conference After Mother Detained By CBP Agents
Protest Planned In National City Over Border Patrol Arrest Of Mother GUEST:Megan Burks, reporter, KPBS News

>>> IT'S FRIDAY, MARCH 9, OUR TOP STORY GOT PROTESTERS RALLY OUTSIDE CITY HALL TODAY TO DEMAND ANSWERS ABOUT THE ARREST EARLIER THIS MONTH OF A WOMAN BY THE US BORDER PATROL. A VIDEO TAKEN OF THE MARCH 3 ARREST ON THE STREET IN FRONT OF HER DAUGHTERS WENT VIRAL ON SOCIAL MEDIA. THE AUDIO MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME LISTENERS. >> [ Audio Playing ] >> U.S. BORDER PATROL SAYS MORALE IS WAS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY BECAUSE SHE WAS PART OF A SMUGGLING DEED. MEGAN BURKS WHO WAS OUT TODAY SHARES. WE JUST HEARD SOME OF THE SOUND FROM THE VIDEO THAT'S BEEN SPREADING ON SOCIAL MEDIA. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS. >> IT SHOWS A CONFRONTATION OR INCIDENT WHERE BORDER PATROL SHOWED UP AS LUNA AND HER THREE DAUGHTERS WERE WALKING DOWN THE STREET TO DELIVER THEIR RENT CHECK. BORDER PATROL AGENTS ARE SHOWN PULLING THE MOTHER AWAY FROM THEIR DAUGHTERS. THEY'RE ALL TRYING TO HOLD HANDS AND THEY'RE PULLING HER AWAY AND I THINK THERE'S ABOUT TWO OR THREE OFFICERS PULLING HER AND PUTTING HER IN A CAR AND SPEEDING AWAY. THERE'S NOT REALLY MUCH -- YOU CAN'T SEE MUCH OF A BACK-AND-FORTH BETWEEN BORDER PATROL AND THE DAUGHTERS. THERE WAS A PIECE OF PAPER AND IT'S UNCLEAR IF IT WAS GIVING INFORMATION ABOUT WHERE THE MOTHER WAS GOING BUT THE VIDEO ENDS WITH THE GIRLS BEING LEFT ON THE CORNER AND PASSERSBY ARE IN SHOCK. >> THERE HAS BEEN A SIGNIFICANT REACTION TO THIS VIDEO INCLUDING TODAY'S PROTEST. WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD AND SEEN AT THE PROTEST. >> THERE WERE SEVERAL COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS PRESENT. THERE WAS A MOTHER AND FATHER THAT WAS TAKEN IN THE MORNING WHILE THEIR KIDS WERE GETTING READY FOR SCHOOL LAST MAY AND THAT FAMILY HAS BEEN REUNITED. WHATEVER CHARGES THAT BORDER PATROL AT THAT TIME SAID THAT THE PARENTS WERE GUILTY OF ANGELA BEING UNFOUNDED. THEY ARE HERE TODAY TO TALK ABOUT IT. THERE WERE ALSO SPEAKERS WERE CALLING A NATIONAL CITY TO TAKE A MORE ACTIVE ROLE IN ASSISTING FAMILIES THAT ARE SEPARATED BY BORDER PATROL. >> THERE IS A NUMBER OF QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE ARREST. WHAT ARE THE AUTHORITIES THINK ABOUT THEIR CONNECTION TO THE SMUGGLING RAKE. >> THERE SAYING THAT SHE IS CONNECTED TO THAT SO THAT GIVES THEM REASON TO WANT TO DEPORT HER BUT SHE'S NOT BEEN CHARGED FOR ANYTHING RELATED TO A SMUGGLING RATE. SHE'S JUST BEING PROCESSED FOR BEING IN THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY. HER ATTORNEY WAS HERE AND SAID THAT LUNA ADAMANTLY DENIES THIS AND HE HAS GONE THROUGH AS MUCH AS HER HISTORY AND CAN'T FIND ANYTHING COME UP IN THE SYSTEM SHOWING THAT SHE HAS PAST CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. SHE SAID SHE HAS NEVER COMMITTED A CRIME SO THERE ARE NO CHARGES ON THE BOOKS. IT MAY BE THAT BORDER PATROL -- OR A CHARGE WILL COME UP LATER. IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE PROCESSING HER FOR DEPORTATION. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE OTHER FAMILY AS WELL. THEY WERE PUT IN DEPORTATION PROCEEDINGS AND THOSE ALLEGATIONS WERE UNFOUNDED. >> WE HEARD THE CRIES OF HER DAUGHTERS AS LUNA WAS PUT INTO BORDER PATROL AND DRIVEN AWAY. HOW ARE HER DAUGHTERS BEING CARED FOR NOW. >> THERE STAYING WITH AN UNCLE AND THEY ALSO HAVE A TEACHER THAT THEY ARE CLOSE WITH AND SHE IS ACTING AS A SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE FAMILY. IT SEEMS LIKE THEY HAVE FOLKS RALLYING AROUND THEM TO SUPPORT THEM AND RIGHT NOW THEY ARE STAYING WITH THEIR UNCLE. THEIR MOTHER WAS TRANSFERRED THIS MORNING AND THE ATTORNEY IS STILL TRYING TO FIND OUT WHERE SHE IS GOING TO BE PLACED. INITIALLY THE SYSTEM SAID SHE WOULD BE TRANSPORTED TO ARIZONA. THE NOTICE IN THE SYSTEM DISAPPEARED SO IT COULD MEAN THAT SHE'S IN TRANSIT TO ARIZONA OR THAT SHE MAY BE STAYING LOCAL. >> NATIONAL CITY HAS BEEN DEALING AS SOMETIME AS A WELCOMING CITY FOR IMMIGRANTS, WHAT IS THE LATEST ON THAT AND WHAT DO THOSE TERMS MEAN ? >> IT'S DESIGNATED AS A COMPASSIONATE CITY AND WHAT THAT MEANS AND THE REASON THAT ACTIVISTS WANT CITIES TO DO THIS IS BECAUSE IT SAYING TO THE COMMUNITY THAT WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT YOU AND WERE NOT GOING TO SHARE YOUR INFORMATION WITH BORDER PATROL AND IF YOU NEED FOOD STAMPS OR BASICALLY SAYING THAT WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT YOU AND YOU ARE WELCOME HERE, IT GETS VERY FUZZY AND YOU SEE THIS IN THE FACEBOOK COMMENTS ON THE VIDEO AND PEOPLE THINK THAT THAT MEANS THEY ARE PROTECTED. THEY HEAR THE WORD SANCTUARY CITY OR THE NEWS ABOUT IT BEING A SITUATED CITY AND THEY THINK THAT IT MEANS ICE CAN'T COME HERE. IT MEANS THAT THE CITY ITSELF IS NOT GOING TO ASSIST THEM. >> CAN YOU TELL US IF YOU KNOW WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT OF THIS ARREST ON THE LARGER COMMUNITY ? >> YOU CAN SEE IT IN THE FACEBOOK COMMENTS, PEOPLE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT STEPPED UP IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT. THE VIDEO IS POSTED ON THE THIRD AND THEN IT STARTS MAKING ROUNDS YESTERDAY AND I SPOKE WITH TEACHERS WHO SAID THEY WERE GETTING CALLS FROM FAMILY MEMBERS WHO THOUGHT THAT IT WAS HAPPENING YESTERDAY AND THEY WEREN'T SURE IF THEY COULD PICK UP THEIR KIDS FROM A NEARBY SCHOOL. IT CREATES A RUMOR MILL ABOUT A NICE IS PRESENT. I SPOKE TO PEOPLE HERE TODAY SAYING THAT ICE HAS BEEN PRESENT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS. ONE ACTIVISTS WHO WORKS WITH A ATTORNEY HERE SAID UNDER THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY USED TO GET CALLS FROM FAMILIES ONE OR TWO TIMES A WEEK AND NOW IT CAN BE AS MANY AS 15 TIMES A DAY. PEOPLE ARE SEEING THIS AND THEY'RE SEEING THE BORDER PATROL TRUCKS. >> THANK YOU.

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.

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.
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.

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.
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.

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.
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.

Corrected: September 28, 2022 at 12:58 PM PDT
City News Service contributed to this report.
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