Seven members of an extended British family who made an unauthorized crossing into the US from Canada have been held in federal custody at a Pennsylvania detention center nearly two weeks after their arrest, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
The family said they blundered across into Washington state while trying to avoid an animal in the road on the Canadian side and have since been “treated like criminals” by their US jailers, forced to bide their time in a series of cold and unsanitary immigration facilities as they await deportation to England.
The detainees include an infant and two-year-old twins.
Their attorney, Bridget Cambria, lodged a formal complaint over the family’s treatment with the US Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and civil rights office.
“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,” Cambria said.
US officials have asserted that the family of Eileen and David Connors crossed the border on purpose, noting that their vehicle was observed “slowly and deliberately” driving through a ditch to cross into US territory in Blaine, Washington, on Oct. 2. Four adults and three children were inside.
Border agents tried returning the family to Canada, but Canada refused to have them back, US Customs and Border Protection said.
After making two attempts to contact British consular officials, the agency said that it turned the family over to US immigration officials for removal proceedings.
Eileen Connors, 24, who is being held in Pennsylvania along with her husband, David, their three-month-old son and other family members, said that US officials have mistreated them.
“We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” she wrote in an affidavit released by immigrants’ rights groups in Pennsylvania.
The Connors family, a couple related to them and their young children were driving along the US-Canada border while vacationing in the Vancouver area when Eileen Connors said that they detoured briefly onto an unmarked road to avoid an animal — and, in the process, unknowingly crossed into the US.
A US Border Patrol agent quickly pulled them over, declared that they had “crossed an international border” and took them into custody, Eileen Connors said.
The family asked to turn around and go back, but the officer refused, she said.
Separated from her husband, Eileen Connors described being forced to sleep with her infant on the “disgusting floor” of a cold cell the first night of her detention.
From there, she was taken to a Red Roof Inn in Seattle, and eventually flown across the country to Pennsylvania, she said.
At the Berks County Residential Center, Eileen Connors described a frigid facility whose staff claimed they could not turn on the heat until the end of next month.
Bathrooms are “dirty and broken” and a staff member shines a light in their room every 15 minutes throughout the night, she said.
She said that her baby developed a swollen, teary eye and rough, blotchy skin in custody.
“We have been treated unfairly from day one,” she wrote. “It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through.”
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