A 22-year-old immigration activist and Cal State Los Angeles student detained by Border Patrol agents last month was released from custody Friday.
Claudia Rueda walked out of the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego after a federal judge ordered her freed on her own recognizance pending further review of her immigration case. She had been in custody since her arrest.
"I just want to say thank you to everyone across the state that has been helping me — and to not forget about other people that are detained, that are in my shoes, and that we need to keep fighting for everyone that's being detained in this unjust immigration system," Rueda said in a video statement Friday.
Rueda had been moving her family's car outside their Boyle Heights home in May when she was detained and taken to the Otay Mesa facility. Her arrest sparked claims that she was targeted in retaliation for protesting the arrest of her mother, Teresa Vidal-Jaime, who had been swept up by federal agents during a massive cocaine bust in April.
"Today, the judge did what ICE and the Border Patrol had unfairly refused to do and freed Claudia from detention," said Monika Langarica, Rueda's attorney.
Rueda is in the country illegally but is eligible for so-called Dreamer status because she was brought to the U.S. as a minor.
Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not involved in Rueda's initial arrest, the judge in her case said the agency's decision to hold her without bond was "unduly severe," according to a news release from activists advocating for her release.
In response, ICE said it would comply with the decision to release Rueda on her own recognizance while her case undergoes further review by the immigration courts.
"Meanwhile, per agency policy, ICE will review any requests submitted by Ms. Rueda's legal representatives related to her case," the agency said in a statement. "However, given that Ms. Rueda's case is now before the immigration courts, [the Executive Office for Immigration Review] has the primary jurisdiction in the matter."
At the time of her arrest, Border Patrol officials said Rueda was one of seven people detained 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 a Border Patrol statement.
Rueda had 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.
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.
"Claudia's detention deeply concerned our campus community. We are very pleased that the judge has ordered her release and look forward to her resuming her studies at Cal State L.A.," the university's president, William A. Covino, said in a statement.
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.
She and Rueda were working on the application Friday, Langarica said, adding that she hoped ICE officials would exercise their authority to terminate the proceedings against her client.
"The shadow of deportation should not hang over Claudia as she continues her vital studies and activism," Langarica said.
Times staff writer Kim Christensen contributed to this report.
6:35 p.m.: This article has been updated with Rueda's release.