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World

AFP
October 17, 2019

Dispute over British family who say they strayed into US

World

AFP
Thu, Oct 17, 2019
A US Customs and Border Protection vehicle at a highway checkpoint. Photo: AFP

LOS ANGELES: US authorities are disputing the account of two British couples who say they were held in dire conditions with their three young children for two weeks after mistakenly straying into the US from Canada.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested the seven family members on October 2 for entering the country unlawfully from British Columbia where they were vacationing.

The two couples said they ended up in the United States inadvertently after swerving down a road along the US-Canadian border to avoid hitting an animal.

They were deported overnight Tuesday and were back in Britain Wednesday, said immigration attorneys with Aldea — The People´s Justice Center, a legal group that assisted them.

But officials have disputed the family's account of events, saying their vehicle was seen on video "slowly and deliberately" driving across the border.

"A vehicle was observed via remote video surveillance system turning west onto Avenue 0 in British Columbia, Canada," CPB said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"The vehicle then turned south and entered the US illegally, by slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Lynden, Washington."

It said record checks revealed that two of the adults — who have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security — had previously been denied authorization to enter the US.

"Canada refused to allow their return and two attempts to contact the consulate for the United Kingdom were unsuccessful," CBP said in justifying the family´s detention.

Eileen Connors, 24, one of the Britons detained with her husband and three-month-old son, described the family´s ordeal in a statement, saying it was "the scariest experience of our entire lives."

She said the group was turned over to immigration agents in Washington state after sleeping on a "dirty floor" in a border patrol station following their arrest.

They were then transferred to a detention facility across the country in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 5, where she said conditions worsened.

"This facility is frigid," said Connors in her statement. "The staff here first told us they cannot turn on the heat in the building until the end of next month," despite temperatures plunging at night.

'Traumatized forever'

Connors said her three-month-old son's health has suffered as a result of the poor conditions that included sleeping on a "filthy concrete floor."

She said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees offered to remove the baby after she complained, echoing accounts of parents separated from their children at the US southern border.

"If we wanted, we could sign papers to allow him to be separated from us and taken to some other facility," Connors said. "We were shocked and disgusted."

An ICE spokesman disputed Connor´s account, describing the facility — Berks Family Residential Center — as having "an outstanding track record."

In a statement to AFP, Aldea dismissed the CBP's justification for detaining the family and said it hoped the incident would shine the spotlight on the plights of many families and children in immigration custody.

"Their (CBP) communication in no way contradicts the family's account that for a brief moment they turned into an unmarked road on United States soil," the statement reads.

It added that the family was traveling in a Canadian rental car with enough cash to cover the expenses of a prolonged trip for a family of seven.

Connors said the incident had left the family "traumatized for the rest of our lives."

Last June, a French citizen visiting her mother in British Columbia was arrested by CBP and held for two weeks after straying across the border while jogging along a beach.