SAN ANTONIO — Francisco Erwin Galicia, 18, was born in Dallas and, according to his birth certificate, is an American citizen. But he has been in federal custody for nearly four weeks after being detained at a Border Patrol traffic checkpoint in South Texas.
Mr. Galicia showed the agents the proof of his birth in the United States when he was stopped at the checkpoint one night in June, when he was on his way to a college soccer tryout. But the agents, his lawyer said, told him they believed it was fake.
They took him into custody, taking him first to a Border Patrol facility in the border city of McAllen and then to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pearsall, Tex., southwest of San Antonio, where he remained on Tuesday.
“He is desperate,” said Mr. Galicia’s lawyer, Claudia Ivett Galan, who along with Mr. Galicia’s relatives has tried unsuccessfully to win his release. “He wants to get out as soon as possible. I’m trying to stop my client’s deportation and intervene before it’s too late.”
Mr. Galicia’s case, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, appears to be part of stepped-up enforcement efforts at Border Patrol traffic checkpoints as the Trump administration cracks down on illegal entry at the southern border. In cases such as these, the administration’s zero-tolerance approach sometimes collides with the messy, unorthodox lives of mixed-status families, whose paperwork is often legitimate but incomplete or faulty.
Officials with the Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, and with Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on Tuesday that they had no immediate comment but were looking into the case.
Mr. Galicia was traveling north on the evening of June 27 with his younger brother and a group of friends. They were headed to a soccer tryout at a college in Texas. Mr. Galicia will be a senior in the fall at Johnny Economedes High School in his hometown of Edinburg, a border city in the Rio Grande Valley. He was hoping that his soccer skills would capture the attention of the coaches and scouts, and earn him a scholarship.
To drive north from Edinburg, the group knew they had to pass a Border Patrol checkpoint about 60 miles north of the border near the town of Falfurrias, Tex. The checkpoints form a secondary layer of border security, far from the actual fence line: All cars must stop, and agents typically ask the occupants of each vehicle if they are United States citizens. The more than 30 permanent checkpoints across Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico have instilled a quiet, widespread fear among many Hispanic citizens and legal residents in border cities that they will be mistaken for someone who is without papers.
Mr. Galicia had traveled through the Falfurrias checkpoint in the past and was not expecting any trouble, Ms. Galan said. Nevertheless, as many Hispanics do, he had brought with him numerous documents, including a birth certificate that showed he was born at a hospital in Dallas on Dec. 24, 2000; his state ID, issued in January by the Texas Department of Public Safety; and his Social Security card. Ms. Galan supplied The New York Times with copies of these documents; the birth certificate features stamps from both the State of Texas and the City of Dallas Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Mr. Galicia does not have a driver’s license, Ms. Galan said.
“Border Patrol agents were telling Francisco that his birth certificate was fake, that he was Mexican,” she said.
One of the issues that may have aroused the agents’ suspicions was the presence of Mr. Galicia’s younger brother, Marlon Galicia, 17, who was born in Mexico and has been living in the United States illegally. He had only a school ID, Ms. Galan said. The driver of the vehicle, one of Mr. Galicia’s classmates, is also a United States citizen, Ms. Galan said.
Another issue that could have confused the agents and has complicated his case involved one of Mr. Galicia’s documents. He brought with him a tourist visa issued by Mexico that stated that he had been born in that country, his lawyer said.
Mr. Galicia’s mother is an undocumented Mexican immigrant who lives in Edinburg. When Mr. Galicia was born, she did not put her real name on his birth certificate because of her immigration status, and she never corrected it. Because of that, she never went through the process of getting her son a United States passport. She believed the best way for him to travel back and forth from Texas to Mexico was to get him the Mexican tourist visa, Ms. Galan said.
“She never fixed that name on his birth certificate, so she never got him a passport and thought it was just easier to get him a tourist visa to get him in and out of the country,” Ms. Galan said.
Mr. Galicia was taken to a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Tex. His brother was also briefly detained but later signed documents agreeing to effectively self-deport, and is now living with relatives in Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen.
Mr. Galicia’s mother tried on her own to get her son released. After about two weeks with no success, she turned to Ms. Galan for help.
Ms. Galan said she planned to meet with her client and with the ICE officials handling the case on Tuesday in an attempt to secure his release.
Mr. Galicia fears he will be deported, she said. On Monday, she said, an ICE officer approached him, seeking to interview him under oath about his situation. The officer was carrying documents that appeared to acknowledge that he was indeed an American citizen, Mr. Galicia told his lawyer. But he declined to meet with the officer.
“Francisco was so scared he didn’t want to sign anything without me present,” Ms. Galan said. “He’s actually scared they’re going to trick him into signing an order of removal.”
Nubia Reyna contributed reporting from Brownsville, Tex.
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