A mother and her American-born teenage son are suing two US government agencies and speaking out over the inhumane conditions they said he endured while taken into border custody for more than three weeks.
Francisco Galicia, 18, from Edinburg, Texas, was released from detention earlier this week after an ordeal in which he said he lost 26 pounds, was kept in a crowded space with 60 others and, for 23 days, wasn’t allowed to call his family or a lawyer, brush his teeth, or get access to a toilet, shower or bed.
He was so desperate in the face of the conditions, and unable to communicate with anyone outside, that he almost allowed himself to be deported to Mexico, as first reported by the Dallas Morning News.
And his mother, Sanjuana Galicia, might not have found out where he was if it weren’t for his younger brother, 17-year-old Marlon, who is undocumented and who agreed to be swiftly deported to Mexico, from where he called his mother to tell her what had happened.
“We’re conflicted,” Sanjuana Galicia, a single parent, told the Guardian in a phone interview on Thursday night from her home in Edinburg, close to the border town of McAllen. “Overjoyed that Francisco is home, but half our heart is in Mexico. We talk to Marlon every day, but we want him here at home.”
Francisco was kept in custody, variously, by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) after going through a federal checkpoint 75 miles from the US-Mexico border in Texas, in Falfurrias, while driving to a soccer scouting event.
When he presented his state-issued identification, a wallet-sized copy of his birth certificate and his social security card, they were rejected by agents, the family said.
“Imagine going 23 days without a shower, [proper] sleep, with malnutrition and being forced to sleep on the floor,” she said.
She added: “They wanted to psychologically intimidate him to the point he’d sign his own deportation order. We’re suing over the abuse my son endured.”
I'm so worried. It's one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico
They are now desperate to try to get Marlon back across the border, as he is in Reynosa, Mexico, a city where many locals live in fear of the drug cartels.
“He’s my best friend. We went everywhere together,” Francisco Galicia said. “All my friends are so used to always seeing us together, even they think it’s unnatural for us to be separated. If they’re saddened, imagine how my mom and I feel.”
Francisco was freed this week from the South Texas detention complex in Pearsall, near San Antonio, amid pressure from friends and advocates in a campaign that spread via social and mainstream media.
His attorney, Claudia Galan, believes Francisco was a victim of racial profiling. The lawyer is now working on getting Marlon back to the US. He has found his way to his grandmother, who lives in Reynosa, across the US-Mexico border from McAllen.
“I’m so worried. It’s one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico. That’s why I left. To escape the violence and presence of the drug cartel,” said Sanjuana Galicia.
She said the brothers are so close they are like twins.
“There are times when we’re overcome with immense sadness. We both cry over it,” she said.
Francisco Galicia is an avid soccer player and said he is an aspiring businessman who dreams of attending college. He was born in Dallas in 2000.
When detained by border patrol almost a month ago, Francisco, Marlon and some friends were en route to visit with coaches at Ranger College, near Fort Worth, with aspirations to land a soccer scholarship. But the group was detained at a checkpoint in Falfurrias.
Galan said she suspects her client was taken into custody despite providing a copy of his birth certificate because another document, a tourist visa his mother had obtained for him in the past, said incorrectly that he was born in Mexico.
The documentation mix-up does not justify the time Francisco was kept in custody, nor the way he was treated, Galan said.
“Law enforcement said his birth certificate was fake. That he was not born in the US, The way he was interrogated and harassed, it’s a scare tactic that shouldn’t be allowed in law enforcement at all,” Galan said.
Ice did not respond to requests for comment. CBP has asserted that Galicia didn’t claim US citizenship.
“We really need Congress to demand oversight and accountability for law enforcement, especially in Ice and border patrol,” Galan said. She said Galicia’s case isn’t unique. She cited US citizen Julio Cesar Ovalle, of San Antonio, who was deported to Mexico, where he was kidnapped and later freed with assistance from US authorities.
“If you’re not white, you can pretty much be deported even if you’re a US citizen,” Galan said.