A 22-year-old immigration activist and college student has been detained by Border Patrol agents, sparking claims that she was targeted in retaliation for protesting the arrest of her mother, who was swept up by federal agents during a massive cocaine bust last month.
Claudia Rueda was moving her family's car outside their Boyle Heights home when she was detained and taken to a federal facility near San Diego on Thursday morning, her attorney, Monika Langarica, said.
"She was moving the car because of street sweeping," Langarica said. "Before she got out of the car, three vehicles pulled up."
Activists and friends of Rueda's say Rueda was targeted because of protests she has led in recent weeks over the detention of her mother, Teresa Vidal-Jaime, 54, who was detained by federal agents during a drug raid that targeted other members of Rueda's family. But authorities determined that Vidal-Jaime was not involved in the alleged drug trafficking and she was released on bail earlier this month.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Border Patrol officials said Rueda was one of seven people arrested as part of an investigation into "a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation." All seven, however, were arrested on suspicion of immigration violations, not drug offenses, according to the Border Patrol statement.
Rueda violated the terms of her visa, the statement said. The others arrested were not named and identified only as five Mexican nationals and one Guatemalan national. The statement also described Vidal-Jaime as "connected" to the drug trafficking organization, though a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which was involved in the April arrests, previously told The Times that the woman was not a subject of the narcotics investigation.
"These targeted arrests should send a stern message to anyone linked to transnational smuggling," Roy D. Villareal, deputy chief patrol agent of Border Patrol's San Diego sector, said in the statement. "Our agents will be relentless in their effort to put these organizations out of business."
Mark Endicott, a supervisory agent with the Border Patrol in San Diego, said he could not "disclose the degree of the connection between each targeted subject and the narcotics organization. Asked why agents conducting a drug investigation arrested people suspected of immigration violations rather than narcotics offenses, Endicott said "the intent of the enforcement effort was to disrupt the entire organization."
Rueda's arrest was part of the larger criminal investigation, according to Endicott, who said each person targeted Thursday, including Rueda, had been identified as "part of a support network" for the drug organization. He declined to elaborate.
Langarica, however, said there is no link between Rueda and the alleged drug ring.
"There is a lot that suggests retaliatory behavior on Border Patrol's part," Langarica said.
Los Angeles police and sheriff's officials said they were notified of Border Patrol's actions this week but were not involved.
"Department of Homeland Security databases indicate Ms. Rueda currently has no legal authorization to be in the United States," Kice said. "Accordingly, she has been placed in removal proceedings.… It will now be up to an immigration judge ... to determine whether Ms. Rueda has a legal basis to remain in the U.S. or will be ordered removed."
Rueda's mother was picked up by federal authorities in April during a raid at a Boyle Heights apartment complex where more than 30 pounds of cocaine and $600,000 in cash were found, officials said. Vidal-Jaime's husband, Hugo Rueda, and three other men were arrested on suspicion of drug possession.
Hugo Rueda and the other men were charged with possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Last month, Border Patrol officials said Rueda and one of the other men were suspected of entering the U.S. illegally and could face deportation.
Though investigators said Vidal-Jaime was not involved with the alleged drug trafficking, she was held for several weeks in federal custody. On May 12, over the objections of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, she was released after posting $2,000 bail.
Immigration activist Claudia Bautista, a friend of Claudia Rueda's, said Rueda was detained Thursday on Hicks Avenue near her aunt's home. Border Patrol agents then tried to gain access to the home of Rueda's aunt but were denied entry, Bautista said. They then moved to a guest house on the property, according to Bautista.
"This is exactly what everyone feared," she said. "It is very concerning they'd just come into a Los Angeles neighborhood and take her and other people."
Bautista said she believes Rueda was taken into custody as "retribution" for her activism on behalf of her mother.
"They wanted payback," she said.
Claudia Rueda was previously arrested by the LAPD in January 2015 on suspicion of trespassing outside the downtown office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Endicott declined to say whether Rueda had any other prior arrests.
Her detention this week drew a swift and angry reaction from local activists. Groups circulated a photograph of Rueda with one fist raised, accompanied by a demand for her release.
A protest was staged outside the Border Patrol's offices in Chula Vista on Thursday night, and video footage showed dozens of protesters chanting, "Free Claudia now," and holding handmade signs.
Rueda is focusing on Latin American studies at Cal State L.A. and has lived in the U.S. most of her life, friends said.
Langarica said Rueda is eligible for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but had not been able to cobble together the money for her application.
"Her mom's meager wages have been funding her education," Langarica said.
If Rueda is released, she could secure DACA protections and remain here, the attorney said.
"There's a solution on the horizon," Langarica said. "It's absurd we are going through this."
8:35 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from ICE about Rueda's status.
5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from a Border Patrol spokesman.
3:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from Border Patrol.
1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from the sheriff's spokeswoman and a description of protests on Friday.
May 19, 11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and comments from a friend of Claudia Rueda's.