Last Monday, the Dallas Morning News broke the story of Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CPB), transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and held in custody for nearly three weeks. ICE held Galicia even though he had documents on him that proved he was born in Texas. But by Tuesday afternoon, a little over 24 hours after the Morning News‘s story came out, Galicia went free.
As the Morning News reports, Galicia’s detention “appears to have been a bureaucratic mix up,” caused by an application for a Mexican visa to visit the U.S. filled out in his name. Galicia told the paper that he was held with 60 other men and not allowed to shower for the 23 days he was held, and by the time he was released he had lost 26 pounds. “It was inhumane how they treated us,” he said. “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.”
The broad strokes of Galicia’s story, a U.S. citizen held by immigration authorities and threatened with deportation because of paperwork, is shockingly common. Peter Sean Brown, a Philadelphia man with the same name as an immigrant, was held for weeks and nearly deported to Jamaica. Officials weren’t swayed by his state-issued IDs that are only available to people with social security numbers. And in March of this year, 9-year-old Julia Medina was detained by CBP for 32 hours despite her being a U.S. citizen.
Though she’s an American, Medina’s family lives in Tijuana, and they cross the border each morning to get to school. On a Monday morning, CBP detained her and her 14-year-old brother, Oscar, saying she didn’t look like the photo in her passport, according to NBC San Diego. CBP said the elementary student, who was questioned without her parents present, “provided inconsistent information during her inspection.” The agency reportedly had no explanation for why it took 32 hours to confirm her citizenship and release her, though in that time they accused her brother, who is also a U.S. citizen, of human smuggling and tried to have him sign a document saying his sister was his cousin. Medina was finally released after her mother pleaded with the Mexican consulate to contact U.S. immigration authorities.
In all of these cases, Galicia, Brown, and Medina had paperwork on them that proved they were U.S. citizens when they were apprehended. But clearly that wasn’t enough to prevent detention by an administration that views non-white people as suspicious. If a passport isn’t enough to prove citizenship, it’s not clear what people can do to avoid getting detained by ICE or CBP.