Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman Salazar, 31, was arrested Friday at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry and charged with fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.
Two U.S. officials said Monday that she told authorities her father was Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the arrest publicly.
A woman under that name has been charged in federal court in San Diego. Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said she could not confirm that the woman charged was Guzman's daughter.
Guzman Salazar hired Jan Ronis, whose roster of clients with links to organized crime has included Benjamin Arellano Felix, the fallen leader of the eponymous drug cartel that was one of Mexico's most powerful. Ronis said he was just learning about the case and declined to comment on the charges.
The complaint said Guzman Salazar attempted to enter the country on foot, presenting a non-immigrant visa contained in a Mexican passport. She told authorities that she intended to go to Los Angeles to give birth to her child.
The significance of the arrest will depend on what Guzman Salazar can tell authorities about her father, like whether she can provide phone numbers, said David Shirk, director of the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute.
"We don't know exactly what she knows," said Shirk. "It may just be an interesting factoid in the war on drugs or it could be a vital clue for law enforcement ... This is the kind of random development that could potentially shift the tides."
The Sinaloa cartel, named after the Pacific coast state of the same name, controls trafficking along much of the U.S. border with Mexico, particularly in western states.
The Los Angeles Times reported last year that Guzman's wife -- former beauty queen Emma Coronel -- traveled to Southern California and gave birth to twin girls at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, north of Los Angeles. The newspaper said Coronel, then 22, holds U.S. citizenship, which entitles her to travel freely to the U.S. and to use its hospitals.
"You kind of surmise that there's some family connection back to Southern California," Eric Olson, associate director of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute said of the daughter's arrest.
The arrest and investigation of Guzman Salazar were handled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the nation's largest border crossing in San Diego.