BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – A native-born U.S. citizen was sent to a Texas immigration prison this week after a daylong interrogation because he was delivered by a midwife and immigration agents didn’t believe his birth certificate.
Agents also seized Juan Carlos Garza’s passport before they imprisoned him at Los Fresnos immigration prison, also known as the corralón.
Garza and his wife sued the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other top immigration officials on Wednesday in Federal Court.
He was released after his attorneys Lisa Brodyaga and Jamie Diez filed a habeas petition on Wednesday, but still has been ordered to appear before an immigration judge.
“Had we not filed the habeas he would probably still be detained,” Diez told Courthouse News.
Garza was delivered by a midwife in May 1983 in Mission, Texas. He went to Reynosa, Mexico this week for a day with his young son and was arrested around noon Monday as he tried to return to the United States at the Hidalgo Port of Entry. Crossing the international border in twin towns on the border is a daily occurrence for thousands of workers, families and shoppers, no more unusual than a walk across town elsewhere.
Garza says immigration agents stopped him because the State Department had flagged his birth certificate for suspected fraud. He called a cousin to pick up his son, then immigration agents grilled him for nearly 24 hours.
“He was harshly questioned about his place of birth, and told that he was born in Mexico, in an attempt to force him into falsely ‘admitting’ that he was not born in Texas. He refused to do so,” the complaint states.
He was sent to the corralón on Wednesday. It is one of the largest immigration prisons in the United States.
Brodyaga and Diez say they have filed dozens of lawsuits in the Southern District of Texas for U.S. citizens who have had their passports seized, or their passport applications denied, because they were delivered by midwives.
Diez said it’s becoming common for immigration agents to target U.S. citizens who were delivered by midwife.
“My experience is that when you are at a Port of Entry all your rights are left behind. According to them there is no right to an attorney, no right to anything, sometimes not even a right to be treated courteously,” Diez said in an email.
He said that rather than disciplining agents who coerce false confessions from U.S. citizens, the Department of Homeland Security promotes them.
“One agent that was involved in extracting by intimidation a confession from the mother of two sisters that they were not born in Texas when they were born in Texas, is now a supervisor,” Diez said in an email. Another client had just been detained at the Pharr Port of Entry due to the government’s suspicions about his birth certificate.
Garza’s wife and co-plaintiff Yolanda Lopez-Saldivar is from Mexico. He filed a visa application for her in September 2016 that is pending. They say in the lawsuit that her application is in limbo because the government seized Garza’s passport.
They seek a declaration that he is a U.S. citizen and an injunction ordering the government to return his passport and remove any flag on his birth certificate.
They also say that Customs and Border Protection’s policy of detaining and interrogating U.S. citizens with valid passports on advisement from the State Department violates Fifth Amendment due process rights.
Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary David Lapan said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
“However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” he said.