A British family that claims to have accidentally crossed the border from B.C. to Washington state has been detained by U.S. immigration officials for nearly two weeks.
According to Aldea The People’s Justice Centre, which represents Eileen and David Connors, the family had been in Vancouver visiting family when the incident happened on Oct. 3.
The family’s lawyers say the detainees are two related families – a couple with twin two-year-old girls, and a couple with a three-month-old child.
According to a sworn statement by Eileen Connors, which forms the basis of a complaint to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, the group was driving near the border north of Lynden, Wash. when they made “a very brief detour on an unmarked road to avoid an animal.”
The family’s lawyers note that the stretch of the U.S. border where the incident occurred does not have a fence or any large border markers, and “is only separated by a strip of grass a few feet wide.”
However, there are no road connections between the parallel roads on the Canadian side and U.S. side, save for official border crossings.
A Google Street View of Zero Avenue, which runs the U.S. border with Canada north of Lynden, Wash.
Connors says the family was pulled over and arrested by authorities, despite their protestations that they had crossed the border by accident.
According to a statement from a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson, the family was actually arrested on Oct. 2 around 9 p.m., after being spotted on video surveillance on Zero Avenue.
“The vehicle then turned south and entered the U.S. illegally, by slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Lynden, Washington,” reads the statement.
“The vehicle traveled west on Boundary Road continuing on the United States’ side, and was pulled over by a Border Patrol agent a short time later.”
The CBP says a records check found that two of the adults in the vehicle had been previously denied travel authorization to the U.S.
The agency claims that Canada refused to allow the family to return north of the border, and that two attempts to contact the U.S. consulate were unsuccessful.
Global News has requested comment from Canadian authorities.
In a statement, the UK Foreign Office confirmed it was providing consular assistance to a British Family in detention in the U.S. and was in close communication with U.S. officials.
Weeks in detention
In a statement, Connors said her family was “treated in a way that no human deserves to be treated.”
“This is how the scariest experience of our life started. We will never forget, we will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us.”
Connors said on the night of their initial detention they were kept in “very cold” gender-segregated cells. They slept on the floor with only metallic emergency blankets and were given no information or opportunity to contact their family.
She said her husband was taken to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre in Tacoma, Wash. the next day, while she and the baby were put in a motel in Seattle. It is unclear from the statement what happened to the other couple at that point.
Connors said that the family was then flown from Seattle to another detention centre in Berks County, Pa. on Oct. 5.
“Just like the cells where the border officers took us the first night, this facility is frigid,” she said.
“When I ask how I am supposed to keep my baby warm in this horrible cold, all they tell me is to put a hat on him.”
Connors also claimed the child’s teething powder and formula were confiscated for three days, the bathrooms are “dirty and broken,” and they were given blankets that smell “like a dead dog.”
She said she was finally given the chance to speak with the British Embassy on Oct. 8, after her mother in the U.K. contacted British diplomatic authorities in the U.S., at which point conditions began to improve.
“We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights and lied to,” says the statement.
“No one should have to suffer this kind of treatment. This would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.”
In a statement, ICE confirmed the family had been detained, and that it had been moved to Seattle prior to being taken to the Berks Family Residential Centre (BFRC) in Pennsylvania.
“BFRC provides a safe and humane environment for families as they move through the immigration process,” said a statement from ICE officials.
“The center has an outstanding track record with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and is regularly awarded exceptional ratings concerning the health, safety, and treatment of its residents.”
ICE also insisted that the family had been given access to U.K. consular officials while in custody, and said that it “takes approximately two weeks to complete the necessary requirements for country clearance to process an individual as an expedited removal to the U.K. ”
In a statement to media, Connors’ lawyers also add that the family’s story has only gained attention due to the fact that they are from the U.K. and the unusual manner of their detention.
It says the fate of hundreds of other families or children detained in the U.S. system remain unknown to the public.