More than two dozen lawmakers on Monday signed and sent a letter to the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, demanding answers to questions surrounding the wrongful detention and treatment of U.S. citizens.
The letter to CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan comes after federal authorities wrongfully detained two underage U.S. citizens, including 17-year-old Francisco Erwin Galicia-Chapa of Edinburg, and 9-year-old Julia Isabel Amparo Medina of Tijuana.
Galicia, an Edinburg Economedes High School soccer player, was on his way to soccer tryouts at a college in North Texas when he was detained at the Falfurrias checkpoint and kept at a detention facility for more than three weeks — despite showing proof of his citizenship.
Galicia’s case made national headlines after the Dallas Morning News broke the story in late July and later highlighted conditions at the Falfurrias detention center, where U.S. Border Patrol agents held Galicia. Galicia told the Dallas newspaper he lost 26 pounds and thought of self-deporting just to end his time there.
Now, lawmakers want answers.
They want to know specific details about Galicia’s case and the policies and procedures that agents use to handle such cases in order to better legislate solutions, a news release from U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s office indicated Monday.
Gonzalez, D-McAllen, led the charge in writing the letter as Galicia is one of his constituents.
“Detaining lawful U.S. citizens at border checkpoints is not immigration enforcement,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “Francisco Erwin Galicia-Chapa and his family must now bear the mental and physical scars of something that never should have happened. We send this letter on their behalf expecting forthright and honest answers so that we may prevent this from happening again.”
Gonzalez and his co-signees, which included U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, also want a top Border Patrol official to clarify testimony he gave before the House Judiciary about Galicia’s case a few days after the teen was released.
Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement for Border Patrol, testified that at “no time in Border Patrol custody did (Galicia) say that he was a U.S. citizen.”
But according to the letter lawmakers sent to Morgan, they don’t believe Hasting’s testimony was factual.
“We know this is not the case, not only based on the word of the young man wrongfully detained, but also because the charging documents subscribed to by Acting Patrol Agent In Charge Sherman Kemp, signed June 29, 2019 indicate otherwise,” Monday’s letter stated.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, whose twin brother is running for president, called for an investigation into what he called a “clear abuse of power.”
“When a person in DHS custody — a child no less — claims to be an American citizen, the agency must take every step necessary to verify their status and restore their freedom immediately,” he said in the statement. “It is critical that CBP answer our questions and conduct a thorough review of the agency policies that allow U.S. citizens to be detained for weeks without any recourse.”
U.S. Rep Collin Allred, of Texas, called the reports surrounding Galicia’s case “deeply troubling.”
“The rights of U.S. citizens are sacred and no one should fear their own government,” he said.