- A British family of seven, including a three-month-old infant, has been detained by US immigration authorities since October 2 after they mistakenly crossed the Canadian border into unmarked US territory.
- The Connors’ border arrest set off a days-long chain of events that migrant families crossing the US-Mexico border have become intricately familiar with.
- They were initially detained in a Border Patrol station, then flown across the country to a family detention center run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, where they remained as of Tuesday afternoon.
- The Connors said they have been subject to inhumane and unsanitary conditions during their incarceration. ICE said those allegations were “unequivocally false.”
- The Connors said they want Americans to understand that thousands of other families have endured the same treatment after becoming entangled in the US immigration system.
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A British family of seven — including a three-month old baby and two-year-old twin girls — has been detained by US immigration authorities for nearly two weeks after the family inadvertently crossed the Canadian border into unmarked US territory.
The Connors family was vacationing in the Canadian province of British Columbia on October 2, driving close to the US border when they “made a very brief detour on an unmarked road to avoid an animal,” they said.
“Soon, there was a police car behind our vehicle, flashing their lights and urging us to pull over,” Eileen Connors said in a sworn statement her lawyers provided to Insider. She added that they stopped the car and an American officer immediately arrested them before they could explain themselves.
“When we demanded an explanation, the officer simply said, ‘You crossed an international border,'” Connors wrote.
Aldea – The People’s Justice Center, which is representing the family, told Insider in a statement that the family was arrested in an area north of Lynden, Washington.
“Unlike the southern border, there are no markings, there is no fence, nothing that indicates one side of the street is the US and the other is Canada,” the organization said. “It is separated by a strip of grass a few feet wide.”
‘We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the US government has done to us’
Eileen Connors said in her statement that the officer who arrested them did not read the family their rights, did not allow them to turn back, and did not listen to their protestations that they didn’t want to be in the US anyway. Though the family had visa waivers that granted them permission to be in the US temporarily, they had not intended to travel there.
“We were detained anyway and treated in a way that no human deserves to be treated,” Connors wrote. “This is how the scariest experience of our entire lives 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.”
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Insider in a statement that agents observed the Connors via remote video surveillance turning in to the US illegally “by slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Blaine, Washington.”
CBP said agents soon discovered that two of the adults in the family were previously denied travel authorization to enter the US. CBP said agents attempted to return the family to Canada and the United Kingdom, but “Canada refused to allow their return and two attempts to contact the consulate for the United Kingdom were unsuccessful.”
The Canada Border Service Agency did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The Connors said they were brought to Border Patrol’s infamous ‘ice boxes’ and subjected to filthy conditions
The Connors’ border arrest set off a days-long chain of events that migrant families crossing the US-Mexico border have become intricately familiar with.
First, the family was brought to one of Border Patrol’s facilities, which Hispanic migrants call the “hieleras” — Spanish for “ice box.”
The facilities have long been notorious for their freezing temperatures, and attracted fierce scrutiny last spring for detaining young children in conditions without edible food, drinkable water, and hygienic facilities. Several migrant children have died within the last year after spending time in Border Patrol stations.
At the Border Patrol station, the Connors and their three-month-old infant were forced to “sleep on the filthy concrete floor,” according to a complaint filed to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general by Bridget Cambria, an attorney with Aldea.
The complaint said the infant was too young to have completed his immunizations, and was particularly vulnerable to disease. Nevertheless, the family said they were imprisoned in shoddy, freezing conditions with no access to a pediatrician.
Eileen Connors said in her statement that she and her baby were taken to a female-only cell, while her husband, 30-year-old David Connors, was taken to a male-only cell. She said they were given thin, foil blankets, and her husband was given noodle soup in a Styrofoam cup, which he described as “not even apt for animals.”
“We are so sickened by all of this. The idea and memory of our little baby having to sleep on a dirty floor of a cell will haunt us forever,” Connors said. “We are in disbelief that a government would do this to human beings. This would never happen in the UK. People, especially children, should never be treated this way, anywhere, for any reason, ever.”
The Connors say it ‘felt like an abduction or kidnapping’
But the Connors’ ordeal was only beginning. The morning after their arrest, immigration officers finally spoke with the family and offered to release them if they could find relatives in the US to “sponsor” them.
Even though the Connors had money for a hotel and only wanted to go home, the officers insisted they find a sponsor to release them to. When the Connors gave them the address of an American relative, the officers agreed to let them go.
But later that day, the officers said “there was a change in plans” and refused to release them. Instead, the officers moved the family from their cells, put them in a van, and took them away.
“We had no information about where they were taking us or why,” Eileen Connors said. “It almost felt like an abduction or kidnapping.”
Connors said her husband was brought to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, and she and her baby were brought to a Seattle inn for the night. The next day, the family was taken to an airport, where they boarded a flight.
“I thought, ‘Finally, we’re going home’ and felt relieved, even though the officers would not tell me where we were going or why,” Connors said.
But instead of taking them back to Canada or to the UK, they were flown to Pennsylvania and brought to an ICE family detention center in Berks County. As of Tuesday afternoon, the family remained at the detention center.
Aldea said in a statement that the Connors were told Tuesday they would be “gone” within 24 hours, but are unsure whether to trust that information.
“They don’t know who to believe or who to trust, as they have been told before they would leave within a certain time, and those plans have changed repeatedly,” Aldea said. “They wish to reiterate that they have been treated like no American citizen would be treated in the UK, that they have been lied to, and deceived. They are being held against their will from the start and they just want to go home.”
The Connors want Americans to understand that thousands of other families have endured the same treatment
Connors said in her statement that the detention center is just as freezing as the Border Patrol station. She said staff confiscated her child’s teething powder and formula container, and she was given a filthy baby bathtub to wash him in, and smelly blankets to wrap him in.
Connors said her child woke up October 11 with a swollen, teary eye, and rough and blotchy skin, and she feared he was getting sick.
ICE officials confirmed in a statement that the Connors are detained in the Berks Family Residential Center, but did not answer questions about why they were brought there.
The officials denied the Connors’ allegations that they have been subject to inhumane or unsanitary conditions, saying “reporters [sic] of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false.”
The Connors and their legal representatives emphasized in their statements that the family’s treatment is not out of the ordinary for the migrants entangled in the US immigration system.
“This family’s story is only atypical in that they are British, and in the bizarre way in which they were apprehended at the northern border. The rest of the story is very common,” Aldea said. “It is typical that these families with young children are transported across the country without information, with very little food and rest, in the most inhumane conditions.”
The Connors told Aldea that they have witnessed more than a dozen families come to the facility in the time they’ve been there — including eight families with children under the age of five, and four families with infants under the age of two.
“Even if [the Connors] are released and they can put this behind them, they want their story to be heard because they don’t want other babies and children to go through what their children have gone through,” Aldea said.