A Mexican woman in the U.S. illegally who was dragged from her daughters by authorities in a widely viewed video was being released on her own recognizance Tuesday by an immigration judge in Southern California.
Judge Zsa Zsa Depaolo said Perla Morales Luna, 36, was not a danger to society or a flight risk and should be released to her family. She told Morales Luna at a hearing at a detention center that her case would be sent to a U.S. immigration judge in downtown San Diego and warned her she could be arrested again if she did not make her court appearances.
Video shows the mother of three being pulled from her anguished daughters — who are U.S. citizens — earlier this month by Border Patrol agents. Viewers hear uncontrollable crying as she is being driven away.
The government said Morales Luna was involved in human trafficking, which she has denied. She has been charged only with being in the country illegally.
The judge told the court that her decision came after reading pages of documents from both sides. Depaolo reviewed numerous letters in support of Morales Luna's character.
Morales Luna's oldest daughter, 17-year-old Yessica Estrada, wiped tears from her eyes when the judge announced her mother would be released. There was also clapping before the judge ordered no applause.
"I just want to hug her, kiss her and tell her I love her," Estrada said outside the courtroom afterward.
Estrada described March 3 as the worst day of her life and said she is grateful her younger sister videotaped the arrest. She said she and her sisters felt angry and confused after seeing Border Patrol agents whisk their mother away and leave them on the street.
"I think that made a big difference," she said. "It made it so people were able to see what went on, that these things happen to people."
The Border Patrol has defended the arrest and accused Morales Luna of recruiting drivers to take people who crossed the border illegally to a house in National City, near San Diego. She has denied the allegations.
Morales Luna "refused to comply with agents' commands and physically resisted while attempting to abscond into a nearby vehicle," the agency's San Diego sector said in a statement to The Associated Press. "The video clearly shows the arresting agents carried out their duties appropriately, even when faced with a barrage of insults and confrontational agitators."
The agency has put Morales Luna in deportation proceedings and is not pursuing smuggling charges.
Defense attorneys pointed out that the case against three other people accused of ties to the trafficking claims was dismissed.