A British family currently held in US immigration custody was arrested for making what US agents believe was a deliberate attempt to enter the United States illegally from Canada, US Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday in a statement.
The arrest and detention of the Connors family received extensive coverage in the United States and Britain after their attorney described them as tourists who accidentally drove across the border and ended up jailed with their small children in what they described as squalid conditions.
The family's attorney, Bridget Cambria, said her clients were driving near the US border south of Vancouver on October 2 when they swerved to avoid an animal and veered into the United States inadvertently. The family members said they were stopped by a US agent, were denied a request to return to Canada, and instead were sent to a family detention centre in Pennsylvania, where they are being held pending deportation.
CBP officials disputed the family's version of events and said the Connors were spotted via video surveillance "slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Blaine, Washington" between parallel roadways on the U.S. and Canadian sides. The roads are not connected by cross streets, and the only legal way to traverse between the countries is at staffed border stations throughout the region.
Cambria could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.
The CBP statement said US agents also determined that two of the family members had applied for travel authorization to visit the United States and were denied. A senior CBP official said the Connors applied for visa waivers last year, and it was not immediately clear why they were rejected.
Such waivers are available to British passport holders and other foreign nationals from countries for whom the United States has less-restrictive visa requirements.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the case, said the family - four adults and three small children - were in possession of $16,000 in cash at the time of their arrest.
"Attempts were made to return the individuals to Canada, however, Canada refused to allow their return and two attempts to contact the United Kingdom consulate were unsuccessful," the CBP statement read.
The CBP official said it was not clear why Canada refused to let the family back into the country.
At that point, the official said, "by law and procedure we have to turn them over to ICE," referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Eileen Connors, 24, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General on Friday alleging that her entire family, including her 3-month-old son, have spent more than a week living in "frigid" and "filthy" conditions at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
"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 wrote in a sworn statement. "We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to," she wrote, calling the ordeal "undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through."
The Washington Post