After U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers struggled to identify a 9-year-old girl’s identity at the border, they detained her for more than 30 hours for providing information they say was “inconsistent” — a decision they stand by, NBC reports.
On Monday, a woman named Thelma Galaxia asked her friend Michelle Cardenas if she could drive her two children from their home in Tijuana to their schools in San Ysidro that morning. The trip started off as a routine one for her 9-year-old daughter Julia Isabel Amparo Medina and 14-year-old son Oscar Amparo Medina, both of whom are passport-holding U.S. citizens. But when they got in a long, slow-moving line to cross the border at 4 a.m., Cardenas told her two kids and Galaxia’s to just walk across the border — and then, the Medinas ran into trouble.
According to their mother, they didn’t have success crossing into the U.S.: CBP officers told her 9-year-old daughter that she looked nothing like the photo in her passport, which NBC reports was taken years earlier, and Julia says they accused her of being her cousin. Meanwhile, Oscar was forced to sign a document saying that his sister was his cousin, per Galaxia, and that officers told him “he would be taken to jail and they were going to charge him for human trafficking and sex trafficking.”
And then, officers detained Julia to verify her identification — a procedure that took an astonishing 32 hours. While she attempted to sleep through the night, she told NBC that she woke up multiple times, disoriented and afraid.
“I was sad because I didn’t have my mom or my brother,” she said. “I was completely by myself.”
Meanwhile, upon learning that her children had been detained, Galaxia contacted the Mexican consulate, which called her at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to notify her that Julia would be released at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. There, NBC reports that the family of three had a tearful, emotional reunion.
CBP has come under fire in the days since Julia was detained, but officers have defended their 32-hour detention, as they claim that the 9-year-old “provided inconsistent information during her inspection.”
“It’s important that CBP officials positively confirm the identity of a child travelling without a parent or legal guardian,” CBP Public Affairs officer Jackie Wasiluk said in a statement to NBC, asserting that officers did their “due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship.”