July 31, 2019

Senator Warren Requests Homeland Security Watchdog Investigate Unwarranted Detention of American Citizens by Immigration Authorities

18 Year-Old Citizen Held for Weeks under Atrocious Conditions; Nine-Year Old Girl on Way to School Detained for 32 Hours

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) requesting an investigation into the unwarranted detention of American citizens by immigration authorities, and into the policies and procedures in place at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Custom and Border Protection (CBP) to prevent such detentions.

On June 27, 2018, 18-year-old Francisco Erwin Galicia was stopped at a border patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, during a trip to attend a college soccer tryout. Galicia, a U.S. citizen and high school senior in Edinburg, Texas, provided CBP with a Texas birth certificate, a Texas identification card, and a Social Security card. However, CBP falsely claimed that his documents were false, and Galicia was reportedly held for weeks in atrocious conditions; he lost 26 pounds because of lack of food, was not allowed to shower, and was "crammed into an overcrowded holding area ....(where) (s)ome men had to sleep on the restroom area floor."

In March 2019, CBP officers detained 9-year-old Julia Isabel Amparo Medina, a U.S. citizen who was traveling across the border to her school, for 32 hours. Medina presented a passport card, but CBP officers claimed she did not closely enough resemble the photograph on her card and proceeded to accuse her of lying about her identity.

"The detentions of Mr. Galicia and Ms. Medina represent a nightmare scenario in which U.S. citizens were stopped at the border or in the country, presented proof of their citizenship, were accused of no other crime, and were still held by ICE without recourse for hours or days at a time," wrote Senator Warren. "To the extent CBP and ICE are systematically detaining U.S. citizens under similar circumstances, it would represent a severe and unacceptable abuse of power and authority."

These two instances, in which immigration authorities reportedly inappropriately detained an American citizen without evidence to support such detention, are not uncommon occurrences. According to an April 2018 investigation by the Los Angeles Times, ICE released nearly 1,500 people in its custody between 2012 and 2018 after investigating citizenship claims. Senator Warren asked the DHS IG to open an investigation that includes an assessment of policies and procedures in place regarding the wrongful arrest and mistaken detention of American citizens; compliance with these policies and procedures; and the use of racial profiling by CBP and ICE.

Senator Warren has taken a number of recent actions to hold immigration authorities accountable:

  • She sent a letter to the DHS IG requesting an investigation into the use of solitary confinement to force participation in "voluntary" work programs, and another letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting an investigation of whether a private prison contractor violated securities laws in their statements about lawsuits regarding these programs;
  • She sent an oversight letter to ICE regarding reports that ICE has secretly transferred migrants to three new for-profit detention facilities;
  • She joined Senator Schatz (D-Hawai'i) in calling for the federal government to investigate federal contractors in charge of migrant children detained after crossing the U.S. southern border;
  • She and Representative Jayapal (D-Wash.) investigated former White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly's "cynical" and "unethical" decision to join the board of directors of the federal contractor running the nation's largest detention center for migrant children;
  • She sent letters to private prison operators, DHS, the Bureau of Prisons, and the American Correctional Association regarding the accreditation of private prison and immigration detention facilities;
  • Following reports that two additional children had died in the custody of CBP, Senator Warren sent a letter demanding answers about conditions that lead to the deaths of five children in the span of six months;
  • She called for an IG investigation into reports DHS used an intelligence firm's surveillance of Trump Administration family separation policy protests;
  • She questioned GEO Group and CoreCivic about their compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a DHS IG report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers;
  • She sent a letter to Nakamoto Group asking them a series of questions about the thoroughness of their inspections of immigration detention facilities following a DHS OIG report about their inadequacy;
  • In April of this year, she released the prison companies' responses, which revealed that neither the companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS OIG, and also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities, and the IG about the quality of Nakamoto's inspections; and
  • She led a letter to DHS regarding reports that ICE was coordinating with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to arrest, detain, and deport individuals seeking to obtain legal immigration status.