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We Jailed An American Citizen for Having Brown Skin

That’s not “populism” and it’s sure as hell not “patriotism.”
July 23, 2019
We Jailed An American Citizen for Having Brown Skin
Screen shot of Francisco Galicia from social media.

We needed to jail Francisco Galicia until our country’s representatives could figure out what the hell was going on. 

This was the position of the Trump administration and its border hawk allies, who have determined that there is no violation of civil liberties they won’t condone as long as the American citizen has family members from Mexico or Central America. 

Tuesday evening, Francisco Galicia, 18, was released after nearly a month-long imprisonment in Texas, first in a Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) detention center and then in the custody of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). The crime that he committed? Riding in a car while Latino, in the company of an undocumented immigrant. 

From the Washington Post

They were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint in the South Texas town of Falfurrias, about 65 miles north of their hometown, according to his attorney, Claudia Galan. They were asked for papers. And Galicia had plenty, including a wallet-sized Texas birth certificate, a Texas ID card and Social Security card, Galan said. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Galicia anyway over suspicion that his documents were fraudulent.

Birth certificate. State ID. Social Security card. Who carries all of this? I literally don’t know where my Social Security card is. 

And yet despite providing copious evidence that he is a legal resident, law enforcement officers still had a “nagging suspicion” about Francisco. He was traveling to a soccer tryout with his undocumented brother and a group of friends, at least one of whom was a citizen. And he happened to be brown. Voila. That “suspicion” led to him being fingerprinted, after which discrepancies in paperwork filed by his mother resulted in his detention. 

Let me say that one more time for those in the back. This young man was fingerprinted by federal law enforcement because of his race and because of his company, who made the agents suspicious he was a criminal. That’s it. 

Is there any plausible scenario in which this happens to a white person? If you are a white person reading this, has it ever crossed your mind that a cop might FINGERPRINT you indiscriminately because the other passengers in the car in which you were riding had no ID? Unfathomable. 

To compound this affront to Galicia’s rights, he was not given access to a phone to contact family members for the first three weeks of his imprisonment. THREE FREAKING WEEKS. Can you imagine the torment his mother was going through each day that went by? There are despicable violent criminals who are treated with more dignity than the CPB offered this young man. 

The only reason Francisco was detained for such an unconscionable length of time is a campaign of fear being instituted by the Trump administration and its border patrol agents, because they have been too incompetent to actually execute on the president’s central campaign promise to secure the border. They are taking out their own failures on an 18-year-old American citizen because he seems illegal-ish (That’s a new technical legal term DHS is toying around with.) It’s likely that the only reason he was finally released was the amount of media attention his case received. Are there others in his position?

As the former head of the American Conservative Union Al Cardenas said this is simply an effort to “scare, traumatize, belittle…for purposes of inciting the Presidents base and scaring law abiding good people into leaving America.”  I cannot imagine a policy more un-American than this.

Can you imagine the frenzy that our country would be in if sons and daughters of people in privilege were being jailed sans due process for a month without having committed a crime? Do you think Republican senators would be telling their colleagues they are sorry their son has been detained but it’s going to take a few months to sort out his papers, they’ll get to it when they have a chance? 

This is the farce of Trumpian “populism.” A political agenda that was oriented toward an appeal to ordinary people would value the rights and dignity of *all* ordinary people over those in power. When you dismiss the dignity of an ordinary person because they are brown or because their brother is an undocumented immigrant or because you want to show the strength of the state ahead of the election, that’s not populism. It’s pitting one group of ordinary people against another. It’s a way of saying that the “real Americans” who are included in your brand of populism are those whose families came from Ireland or Poland or Germany. Those 18-year-olds can go to their soccer games in peace while 18-year-olds whose families came from Mexico or Guatemala or Honduras get cops demanding ID and indefinitely jailed when the authorities aren’t satisfied. 

This is also the farce of Trumpian “patriotism.” Lectures about love of country ring hollow when love of your countrymen is conditional on their family’s country of origin. Maybe if Galicia was wearing a MAGA hat, the Trump administration wouldn’t have let him rot in one of its makeshift immigrant prisons. Certainly if his name was Frank Graham, he never would’ve been there in the first place. 

This isn’t the first time legal residents of color have been treated this way by the Trump administration. These days Trump allies like to dismiss the notion that there ever was a “Muslim ban” but that requires memory-holing the week of January 27, 2017. During the first week of the ban then-Secretary John Kelly’s Homeland Security Department detained nearly 2,000 people at airports across the country.  According to an agency report obtained by Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner, 1,457 of them were lawful permanent residents in the United States. E.G. green card holders. They had their papers, they had every right to be here, but they had to suffer the indignity of detention for the crime of flying while Muslim (or being from a country with a lot of Mulsims).  It was only after mass protests and worldwide outrage that the administration backed down. 

Francisco Galicia deserves the same uproar. 

Because if he doesn’t get it, there will be more innocent, legal, brown American kids who will be stripped from their families and denied the most basic, fundamental promise of our nation. The ability for all to live free, regardless of skin-color or creed.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.