Francisco Galicia was so malnourished after his weeks in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that the first thing he did after being released was order eight tacos.
“He was starving, so we took him to a taco shop right around the corner from the facility. He lost a lot of weight while he was detained,” his attorney, Claudia Galan, said.
Galan said she wasn’t certain on the exact amount of weight her client lost, but said, “He looked very thin and dropped a significant amount of his body weight.” Galicia told The Dallas Morning News that he lost 26 pounds while in custody.
Not only that, but the high school student was filthy after not having showered for the 23 days he was in custody before being released Tuesday.
“There were no showers, only one toilet. He didn’t shower the whole time,” his attorney said.
Galicia said he was held in a small room with about 60 other people, only one toilet and no doors or wall, Galan said. Her client was hungry all the time and would sleep just to forget about his hunger, she said.
The time spent in detention has left the athletic teen with lower back problems from sleeping on a concrete floor, Galan said.
The teen was at the doctor Thursday morning undergoing a physical exam.
While immigrant rights advocates have pointed to the case as a sign that US authorities are going too far in their crackdowns, border patrol blamed the teen for his plight.
“This individual provided conflicting reports regarding status of citizenship after being apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol and transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement Custody,” CBP and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a joint statement Wednesday.
The statement continued, “Situations including conflicting reports from the individual and multiple birth certificates can, and should, take more time to verify. While we continue to research the facts of the situation, the individual has been released from ICE custody.”
In the days since his release, Galicia has spent much of his time talking to the media, eating and sleeping.
“He’s been getting up at noon, he’s so tired,” Galan said.
The 18-year-old is desperate to see his younger brother, with whom he was traveling on June 27. The brothers and a group of friends from their hometown of Edinburg were traveling to a college soccer scouting event in Houston when they came upon a CBP checkpoint in Falfurrias, about 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Both brothers were detained, and Marlon, who does not have legal status in the U.S., was returned to Reynosa, Mexico, Galan said.
Before he can pay his brother a visit, he will need to apply for a U.S. passport, his attorney said. Next on his to-do list will be filing a federal lawsuit alleging wrongful detention, his attorney says.
“We are seeking compensation for his wrongful detention under the Federal Tort Claims Act,” Galan said. The act allows individuals to sue people acting on behalf of the US government.
Galan says she tried in vain for at least a week to get in touch with Galicia while he was being held, but was given the runaround by Border Patrol.
“They told him he had no right to an attorney,” Galan said. “Once I went to border patrol headquarters, they told me the same thing. … They said that I couldn’t get any information until he consented, but he didn’t even know I was trying to get him out.”
ICE declined Thursday to comment on the allegations and pointed back to a joint ICE-CBP statement.
Although he was born in the United States, Francisco Galicia’s first language is Spanish, a fact his attorney said likely contributed to his wrongful detention.
“He was born here, but he grew up in Mexico. But about four to five years ago he came back,” she said. “He was racially profiled because he didn’t speak perfect English.”
Galicia was carrying documents that his attorney say prove is an American. Those papers are still with border patrol, she said.
“(Galicia) asked me if I could get them back, but I told him it would be easier for him to get new IDs and Social Security card and birth certificate than for border patrol to release them,” she said.
Because he doesn’t have a passport, Galicia was carrying his Texas state identification card, along with his Social Security card and a wallet-size birth certificate.
Additionally, his Mexican tourist visa made officials at the checkpoint “believe that he was here in the country illegally,” Galan said. On it, his mother had inadvertently listed his country of birth as Mexico, she said.
“His brother had a tourist visa also, and he was not born in the U.S., so they assumed Francisco wasn’t either,” she said
Galan has said she shared documents two weeks ago with CBP proving Galicia was a US citizen — including a birth certificate showing he was born in Dallas.
Despite the documentation, the attorney said, Galicia was transferred on Saturday to ICE custody for removal proceedings. He was held in the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall until his release Tuesday.