An immigrant rights activist who has said she was detained by Border Patrol agents in retaliation for protesting the arrest of her mother spoke out publicly for the first time Monday, announcing she will apply for protections as a "Dreamer" in the hopes of avoiding deportation.
Claudia Rueda, 22, grew emotional as she stood in front of a detention center in downtown Los Angeles, describing her time in federal custody as a "nightmare."
"In there, it was always orders and orders. It was very dehumanizing," she said.
Rueda was released from custody on June 9. She was arrested in front of her aunt's Boyle Heights home on May 18 when agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection descended on the area. The Border Patrol has said the agents were carrying out a drug investigation when they snatched up Rueda and six others; none of the people arrested that day were charged with drug offenses.
Rueda's mother, 54-year-old Teresa Vidal-Jaime, had been arrested during a joint operation by the Border Patrol and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in April. A drug raid by both agencies led to the seizure of more than 30 pounds of cocaine and $600,000 in cash, authorities said.
Vidal-Jaime's husband, Hugo Rueda, and three other men were arrested on suspicion of drug possession. The Sheriff's Department has said Vidal-Jaime was not part of the alleged drug operation, but she was held in federal custody for several weeks on suspicion of violating immigration law.
Rueda led protests objecting to her mother's detention. Vidal-Jaime was released from federal custody on May 12 over the objections of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Rueda was arrested six days later in a move her attorney Monika Langarica and other local activists have decried as retaliatory.
Langarica and others have said that Rueda has no ties to the alleged drug organization.
Asked why agents carrying out a drug investigation only managed to make immigration-related arrests, Mark Endicott, a supervisory agent with the Border Patrol in San Diego, had said previously that "the intent of the enforcement effort was to disrupt the entire organization."
Endicott said Rueda had been identified as "part of a support network" for the drug organization. He declined to elaborate.
Rueda, who has been in the U.S. since she was 6, will now apply for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to Langarica. The initiative, started by President Obama in 2012, protects immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation.
Rueda has "no legal standing" to be in the U.S., according to a statement issued by ICE last month. She has been arrested two other times during protests in recent years, according to police records and Times archives.
Langarica made a formal request asking immigration authorities to drop proceedings against her client.
In a statement, an ICE spokeswoman said the agency "will review any requests submitted by Ms. Rueda's legal representatives."
The fate of the DACA program remains uncertain. A memo issued last week by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly seemed to indicate the program would continue, but President Trump repeatedly vowed to end the program while on the campaign trail.
Rueda is a student at Cal State L.A. and was joined by several of her professors on Monday morning. Alejandra Marchevsky, who said Rueda was studying the effects of deportation on immigrant communities in class just a day before her arrest, criticized the tactics of customs officials as an attempt to quash political activism.
"We're seeing this really as a strategy to silence young people who oppose this immigration policy," Marchevsky said.
With tears in her eyes, Rueda said she hoped an immigration judge would not force her to leave the only country she's ever called home.
"This is all that I know. I don't know anything else," Rueda said. "Los Angeles is family."