No Shower for 23 Days: US citizen says conditions were so bad that he almost self-deported
Francisco Erwin Galicia, a Dallas-born US citizen, spent 23 days in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection in conditions that made him so desperate he almost opted to self-deport.
Galicia says he lost 26 pounds during that time in a South Texas immigrant detention center because officers didn’t provide him with enough food.
He said he wasn’t allowed to shower and his skin was dry and dirty.
He and 60 other men were crammed into an overcrowded holding area where they slept on the floor and were given only aluminum-foil blankets, he said. Some men had to sleep on the restroom area floor.
Ticks bit some of the men and some were very sick, Galicia said. But many were afraid to ask to go to the doctor because CBP officers told them their stay would start over if they did, he said.
“It was inhumane how they treated us. 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,” he said.
Galicia spoke to The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, one day after he was released by federal officials who had earlier refused to acknowledge his citizenship when presented with his birth certificate.
CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not respond to Galicia’s claims of poor conditions at the CBP holding facility. But the agencies issued a joint statement Wednesday evening addressing their decision to detain him. The explanation came two days after The News first broke the story of his detention and made repeated requests for comment to both agencies.
“Generally, situations including conflicting reports from the individual and multiple birth certificates can, and should, take more time to verify,” the statement read. “While we continue to research the facts of the situation, this 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.”
For most of the time Galicia was held by federal authorities, he said he lived under conditions that many asylum-seeking immigrants have reportedly faced over the past year, leading to much public outcry from politicians and public figures.
Galicia said he met people from all over: Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Colombians.
“It’s one thing to see these conditions on TV and in the news. It’s another to go through them,” he said.
Galicia was released Tuesday afternoon from the ICE detention center in Pearsall where he’d been since Saturday. His release came less than 24 hours after The News first reported on his detention. Before Saturday, he’d been held for about three weeks at a CBP facility in Falfurrias, where he reported the squalid conditions.
Galicia’s ordeal began on June 27 when he and his younger brother Marlon Galicia and three friends set out for Ranger College in North Texas from Edinburg where the Galicia family lives.
They were heading to a soccer scouting event where the brothers, who both play defense for the Johnny Economedes High School soccer team, were hoping to land scholarships.
“We’re supposed to graduate from high school next year, and we wanted to do something to secure our education,” Francisco Galicia said.
But the boys had to pass through a CBP checkpoint in Falfurrias, about 50 miles north of Edinburg. It was there that CBP agents asked the group to pull over and asked the passengers their statuses.
Marlon Galicia and another passenger lacked legal status. Francisco Galicia told Border Patrol agents that he was a citizen and presented them with a Texas ID, Social Security card and a wallet-sized birth certificate.
But agents doubted the validity of his documents right away, Galicia said.
Agents then took the brothers and another passenger into custody. They held them at the checkpoint for a day and then moved them to a CBP holding facility, where Francisco hoped he would be allowed a phone call.
“I told them we had rights and asked to make a phone call. But they told us, ‘You don’t have rights to anything’,” Francisco Galicia said.
Two days after they were taken into custody, Marlon, who was born in Mexico, decided to voluntarily deport so that he could tell their mother, Sanjuana Galicia, about Francisco’s situation. He is now in Reynosa, a dangerous border city.
Claudia Galan, Galicia’s attorney, told The News that CBPs decision to hold Galicia despite his citizenship was likely tied to the issuance of a visitor’s visa that agents found in their records after they scanned his fingerprints.
Galicia’s mother obtained the visa for him when he was a minor and claimed he was born in Mexico.
He didn’t have a US passport because when he was born in Dallas, Sanjuana used a fake name on his birth certificate.
She feared the only way she’d be able to legally travel across the border with her US citizen son was with the visa.
But Galicia says CBP agents doubted the validity of his documents even before he was fingerprinted.
“Powerless. That’s how I felt. How with all this proof that I was giving them could they hold me?” he said.
Galicia says the documents he presented at the CBP checkpoint have not been returned to him.
CBP has not confirmed whether the old visa was why they detained Galicia.
Sanjuana Galicia said she was just glad to have her son home.
“I’m just so thankful to God and to everyone who spoke up about my son’s situation. I’m glad to have him back home, but I need my other son back,” she said.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.