American released after weeks in border detention: 'It was inhumane how they treated us'

A Texas teenager who was held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials for weeks before his release Tuesday told a Dallas newspaper that conditions at the facility he was held in were so bad that he nearly agreed to self-deport, despite being an American citizen.

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"It was inhumane how they treated us," Francisco Erwin Galicia told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. "It got to the point where I was ready to sign a deportation paper just to not be suffering there anymore. I just needed to get out of there."

Galicia told the newspaper he was held in an overcrowded holding area at a South Texas immigrant detention center with 60 other men. Some of the men appeared to be ill but feared asking for medical help "because CBP officers told them their stay would start over if they did," according to the Morning News.

Galicia told the newspaper that over the course of his stay, he lost 26 pounds because he wasn't given enough food.

"It's one thing to see these conditions on TV and in the news," Galicia said. "It's another to go through them."

The Morning News was the first to report Monday on Galicia's detention. His attorney, Claudia Galen, told the newspaper that he was stopped June 27 at a CBP checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, with friends and his 17-year-old brother, Marlon, who is not a U.S. citizen.

She told The Washington Post that her client showed CBP officers a Texas birth certificate, his state ID card and his Social Security card, but she said they rejected the documents as likely fake and took him and his brother into custody.

"They just didn't believe they were real," Galan told the Post. "They kept telling him they were fake."

The newspaper reported authorities might not have been able to immediately confirm the authenticity of Galicia's paperwork because his mother, who is not a U.S. citizen, took out a tourist visa in his name when he was younger, which falsely listed his place of birth as Mexico. Galen told the Morning News the visa was discovered after Galicia was fingerprinted, though the 18-year-old told the newspaper authorities were suspicious of him even before discovering the visa.

Credit: Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP

Credit: Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP

"Powerless. That's how I felt," Galicia told the Morning News. "How -- with all this proof that I was giving them -- could they hold me?"

In a joint statement obtained Wednesday by the Post, officials with CBP and ICE said Galicia gave "conflicting reports regarding status of citizenship after being apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol and transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement Custody."

"Situations including conflicting reports from the individual and multiple birth certificates can, and should, take more time to verify," the statement said. "While we continue to research the facts of the situation, the individual has been released from ICE custody. Both CBP and ICE are committed to the fair treatment of migrants in our custody and continue to take appropriate steps to verify all facts of this situation."

Galicia's mother, Sanjuana, told the Post she got her son a tourist visa because she believed it was the only way to allow him to travel across the border to visit family. She added that she couldn't get her son a U.S. passport because she was not in the country legally when she gave birth to her son in Dallas in December 2000, and she gave a different name for herself on his birth certificate.

The New York Times reported Galicia and Marlon were initially detained at a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas. They were later transferred to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pearsall, Texas, about 60 miles southwest of San Antonio, according to the Times.

Galicia told the Morning News that he'd hoped authorities would allow him to make a phone call after the transfer.

"I told them we had rights and asked to make a phone call. But they told us, ‘You don’t have rights to anything,’” Galicia said.

Marlon agreed to be voluntarily deported shortly after he was detained and is now staying with family members in Reynosa, Mexico, the Times reported. He agreed to be deported to get word to their mother about his brother's detention, according to the Morning News.

"I'm just so thankful to God and to everyone who spoke up about my son's situation," Sanjuana Galicia told the newspaper. "I'm glad to have him back home, but I need my other son back."

It's not the first time authorities have detained a person claiming American citizenship, though the cases make up a fraction of ICE detentions each year, according to a 2018 report from the Los Angeles Times.

Between 2012 and April 2018, ICE officials released 1,480 people from custody after investigating their claims of American citizenship, the Los Angeles Times reported. A review of Justice Department records and interviews with immigration attorneys "uncovered hundreds of additional cases in the country's immigration courts in which people were forced to prove they are Americans and sometimes spent months or even years in detention," the newspaper reported.

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