Immigration activists protested Monday’s detention by federal authorities of a 54-year-old woman during a large cocaine bust in Boyle Heights where her husband and three others were arrested.
The U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement that Teresa Vidal-Jaime was taken into custody “upon discovering that she was living in the country illegally,” but protesters said the woman committed no serious crime and had been detained because of her daughter’s own activism.
They pointed out that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department –the local agency that assisted in the drug raid– originally detained Vidal-Jaime but released her when it was determined she was not involved in the narcotics probe. The Sheriff’s Department said it never questioned the woman about her immigration status.
The Border Patrol said it detained Vidal-Jaime during the course of an investigation involving a Chevrolet Malibu sedan suspected of smuggling narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border. The Sheriff’s Department told the Los Angeles Times that the Border Patrol informed them that the vehicle was believed to be on its way to Los Angeles.
The local agency said that when the car arrived at an apartment complex on the 700 block of Bernal Street in Boyle Heights, investigators saw several men unloading drugs from the vehicle. They found 15 one-kilo bundles of cocaine –about 33 pounds– inside the Chevrolet Malibu and arrested its owner, 50-year-old Hugo Rueda, who is married to Vidal-Jaime.
At the complex, investigators discovered “a large amount of currency” hidden inside the spare tire of a Kia Spectrum that the man was safekeeping. Officers also found about one ounce of crystal methamphetamine in the second vehicle.
According to the Border Patrol statement, Vidal-Jaime granted officers access to the apartment she shares with Rueda, where they discovered “a large amount of currency in a duffel bag.” The agency said the estimated total amount of cash seized was $600,000. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department told The Times that the cocaine seized has a street value of $300,000.
Authorities also arrested three other men, who were identified as Enrique Rueda, 47; Erasmo Pimentel, 28; and Jose Gutierrez, 46. The Times reported that all four men arrested were booked on narcotics charges and were each being held in Los Angeles County jail on $500,000 bail.
According to activists, Vidal-Jaime was taken to a detention center in Chula Vista where she is awaiting deportation proceedings.
On Wednesday, the Times reported that Hugo Rueda and one of the other three men arrested are undocumented and that they may also face deportation. A spokesperson for the Border Patrol told The Times that the agency “may actively seek to initiate removal proceedings for these individuals after their criminal cases are adjudicated and they are eligible for release.” The spokesperson refused to name the second undocumented suspect.
Neighbors interviewed by the Times said that Hugo and Enrique Rueda are brothers who lived in the same apartment with their wives. They said the men worked delivering fruit, at a car wash and in construction.
The Times reported that Vidal-Jaime’s daughter, Claudia Rueda, an immigration activist in Los Angeles, joined about 70 people at a protest Monday evening in front of a federal building in downtown Los Angeles. Some of the demonstrators told the paper they thought Vidal Jaime was detained as a form of retribution for her daughter’s activism.
In a statement by the Immigrant Youth Coalition, Claudia Rueda said she was attending class Monday evening at Cal State LA. when she received news about the raid. Claudia Rueda appears in a video posted on the organization’s Facebook page which briefly shows the moment when Vidal-Jaime is being detained.
The video says Vidal-Jaime is the mother of two who has lived in the United States since 2001. Spanish-language media has reported that the woman works for a local panadería.
Watch the video:
Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 27 to update the names and ages of men arrested and their immigration status.