Seven people from a British family are set to be deported from the United States, where they spent nearly two weeks in a detention centre enduring what they allege were harsh conditions after driving off a road in B.C. and crossing a median into the U.S.
The Connors family said they blundered their way into Washington State while trying to avoid an animal on Abbotsford’s Zero Avenue – which is directly adjacent to another road in the United States – and have since been “treated like criminals” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The two couples and three small children have been forced to bide their time in a series of cold and unsanitary immigration facilities as they await deportation to England, the family said.
Their lawyer has lodged a formal complaint over the family’s treatment with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector-general and civil rights office.
By contrast, U.S. officials have alleged the family of Eileen and David Connors crossed the border around 9 p.m. on purpose, saying their vehicle was observed “slowly and deliberately” driving through a ditch to cross into U.S. territory in Lynden, Wash., on Oct. 2. The couple have been detained along with their three-month-old son and Mr. Connors’s cousin, his wife and their two-year-old twins, according to statements from the family and ICE.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told The Globe on Tuesday that their agents discovered two adults in the group had been denied entry to the U.S. last year. A spokesperson for the agency would not say which adults had been denied entry into the U.S., or why.
The U.S. border agency said that its agents tried returning the family to Canada, but Canada refused to have them back. The family had been vacationing in the Vancouver area.
The Canada Border Services Agency did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday afternoon as to why the family wasn’t able to return to Canada.
After making two attempts to contact British consular officials, the U.S. Border Patrol said it turned the family over to U.S. immigration officials for removal proceedings. In the meantime, the whole group was transferred from Seattle to the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania – one of three family detention centres in the U.S. that hold children and parents who are seeking asylum or who entered the country illegally.
Bridget Cambria, the family’s lawyer, described the whole situation as a “very bizarre” case of federal overreach.
“What is bothersome for me as an attorney, and I guarantee for them, was the lack of common sense at almost every stage of their apprehension and detention,” Ms. Cambria said.
Ms. Connors, 24, said U.S. officials have mistreated them, according to her affidavit from the formal complaint that was released by immigrants’ rights groups in Pennsylvania.
“We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” she wrote.
In her affidavit, Ms. Connors described Berks as a frigid facility whose staff claimed they couldn’t turn on the heat until the end of November. Bathrooms are “dirty and broken,” she wrote, and a staff member shines a light in their room every 15 minutes throughout the night. She said her baby developed a swollen, teary eye and rough, blotchy skin in custody.
“We have been treated unfairly from day one,” Ms. Connors wrote. “It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through.”
The ICE statement said the Berks centre “has an outstanding track record,” and "provides a safe and humane environment for families as they move through the immigration process."
Ms. Cambria, the immigration lawyer, said the family should be on a plane to England within days.
With reports from The Associated Press
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