In March this year, a nine-year-old girl was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for more than 30 hours, despite being an American citizen.
Nine-year-old Julia Medina and her family live in Tijuana, Mexico, though they’re American. Every morning Julia and her 14-year-old brother cross the border into San Ysidro to go to school. One morning, however, officials at CBP detained the two siblings, saying Julia didn’t look like the photo in her passport.
The elementary school student was reportedly questioned by CBP officers without her parents present. According to the agency, the nine-year-old ‘provided inconsistent information during her inspection’.
It took the agency 32 hours to confirm Julia’s identity and American citizenship. In that time, they reportedly accused her 14-year-old brother Oscar of human smuggling, and tried to have him a sign a document which said his sister was actually his cousin, NBC 7 reports.
CBP said they took the girl into custody ‘to perform due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship.’ CBP Public Affairs officer Jackie Wasiluk said: ‘It’s important that CBP officials positively confirm the identity of a child travelling without a parent or legal guardian.’
Julia apparently showed officers her passport card, which has a picture of her from when she was much younger. However, when asked why it took 32 hours to verify the girl’s identity, CBP did not give specific information.
Some specifics of our techniques for determining the true identity of a person crossing the border are law enforcement sensitive information. In addition, some details of this case are restricted from release due to privacy concerns.
Julia’s mum, Galaxia, said of the attempted manipulation of her son to declare his sister was a cousin: “He was told that he would be taken to jail and they were going to charge him for human trafficking and sex trafficking.”
The nine-year-old was kept away from her family for 32 hours, unable to sleep because she was scared and sad she wasn’t with her family.
As Julia told NBC 7:
I was scared. I was sad because I didn’t have my mom or my brother. I was completely by myself.
Almost two days after she was first detained, Galaxia was told her daughter would be released at the Ysidro Port of Entry. While the family hugged and cried when Julia was finally returned to them, Galaxia said the emotional reunion should not have had to happen in the first place.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.