Why Did Border Patrol Detain An 18-Year-Old U.S. Citizen For 3 Weeks?

The first thing he said to me was, 'Mommy, they let me go. I'm free.'

By Lauren Rearick

Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Dallas, Texas, was detained and held by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for three weeks, the Dallas Morning News reported. The high school athletic star was just trying to go to a soccer scouting event when he was detained at a CBP checkpoint.

Border Patrol reportedly claimed Galicia’s citizenship documents were fake, The Washington Post reported. He wasn’t released until Tuesday, July 23.

In a statement, ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection said “conflicting reports regarding status of citizenship” had resulted in the detainment, the Associated Press reported. But officers kept Galicia detained even after he showed them his birth certificate.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Galicia and his 17-year-old brother Marlon were making their way to the soccer event on June 27 when they reached a CBP checkpoint. These checkpoints are part of everyday life for many Americans who live near the U.S./Mexico border. Officers stop each car and are allowed to ask a series of limited questions to verify citizenship of the people inside the car. They can also take a look at the exterior of the vehicle; then, they can send cars to a secondary inspection area for more questioning and inspection.

At this checkpoint, which was located 65 miles from their Texas home, Francisco and Marlon were asked to show proof of citizenship. Marlon, who was born in Mexico, had a school ID. Francisco had a Texas ID, which is only available to people with social security numbers. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services notes that a birth certificate, U.S. passport, certificate of citizenship, or a naturalization certificate are considered the most common form of citizenship documents.

After showing the officers their identification, CBP officials detained both teenagers were detained, Claudia Galan Francisco’s attorney told the Washington Post. CBP officials believed their IDs were fake; as the Post notes, Francisco’s mother had previously incorrectly stated on a U.S. tourist visa that Francisco was born in Mexico, which may have contributed to CBP’s false belief.

But even that visa had a reason behind it: According to Galan, Francisco’s mother expressed concern about whether she would be able to help Francisco obtain a U.S. passport when the family moved back to the U.S. after living in Mexico for several years. Instead, she thought that listing Francisco’s birthplace as Mexico and securing him a visitor visa from Mexico would make the process easier. When CBP detained Francisco, officers scanned his fingerprints and saw his previous visitor visa, which conflicted with the documents that listed his birthplace as Texas.

After two days in CBP custody, Marlon chose voluntary detention, and traveled to his grandmother’s house in Reynoso, Mexico. “I signed because I wanted to talk with my mom,” Marlon told the Dallas Morning News. 

Francisco, however, was kept in CBP custody until July 20, when he was transferred to an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Pearsall, Texas. After two weeks in custody, Galan visited CBP to present Francisco’s birth certificate, health insurance card, and a school ID to officials. They still refused to release him.  Galan was scheduled to meet with ICE regarding the case on Tuesday, July 23, but Francisco called his mother on 2 pm that day: He had finally been released.

"The first thing he said to me was, 'Mommy, they let me go. I'm free,'" his mother told the Dallas Morning News.

Yet while that experience isn’t over, the Galicia brothers aren’t alone. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2018 that there were 1,408 cases of ICE wrongfully taking people into custody.

According to Sui Cheng, the vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s ICE committee, this case was particularly complex given its circumstances. Still, Cheng told MTV News, “There is no justification for the fact that he was held for that long as a U.S. citizen.”