The video of Perla Morales-Luna being arrested last week has now amassed millions of views. She was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on suspicion of transnational smuggling and illegally residing in the United States, but that's not uncommon. It was the heartbreaking sound of her daughters' screaming while ICE arrested their mom that brought national attention to Morales' detainment. Reactions on Twitter conveyed mostly heartbreak and anger — and often, both.
The arrest took place in National City, California, a town south of San Diego that has advertised itself as a "compassionate community" — meaning they had put in place policies intended to make it a safe place for immigrants from all backgrounds. Morales was on a sidewalk with her three young daughters when ICE agents arrived and yanked her away, forcing the mother into a waiting SUV.
Her daughters are vocally distraught in the video, screaming and crying while a small huddle of agents surrounds the vehicle, hiding their mother completely from sight.
Luis Gomez, an editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune, posted two recorded views of the encounter on Twitter on Thursday, asking in a thread if the Customs and Border Protections unit of San Diego would comment.
A representative from the unit later granted Gomez's request, posting on Twitter that Morales had been "identified as an organizer for a transnational criminal smuggling organization." They said her arrest came as part of a "targeted operation" for "being in the country illegally."
A human rights group — American Friends Service Committee's San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program — is now working with the Morales family. Benjamin Prado, a coordinator with the group, told the Los Angeles Times, "It's really a grotesque way of detaining and enforcing immigration law." Prado went on to describe this sort of arrest — "snatching people up off the street" — as "very tyrannical."
Plenty of people on Twitter agreed.
As several Twitter users pointed out, the aggressive and unexpected arrest of Morales left her daughters standing on a street corner with no adult supervision. MSNBC contributor Scott Dworkin wrote that "leaving them without their mother" was "absolutely despicable." Echoing that sentiment, Holly Figueroa O'Reilly, a co-organizer of the National March for Truth, wrote that, "As a mother of 5, this nearly broke me." She went on to ask, "What if this was your mom? Your kids?"
Prado agrees. He told the Los Angeles Times, "Our biggest concern is the manner in which this raid took place" including the "terror and trauma that is being imposed on the children, her daughters."
The Department of Justice has recently signaled it will take a harder stance against places — like National City — that have enacted their own regulations to protect immigrant communities. Other California metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, have declared themselves "sanctuary cities" for immigrants. National City hasn't gone that far, but it did back the state Senate Bill 54, which puts restrictions on the extent local law enforcement can cooperate with ICE and border patrol agents.
More to come...