However, U.S. officials are challenging the Connor family’s story, saying video evidence and a stash of cash suggests they may have attempted an intentional, illegal entry.
A British family being held in a Pennsylvania immigration center says they were taken into custody after accidentally crossing the U.S.-Canada border.
According to National Public Radio, the couple were vacationing with their three-month old son in British Columbia. While driving a rural route, they swerved to avoid an animal and entered an unmarked road. That road, apparently, brought them into the United States—seconds later, their vehicle was surrounded by Border Patrol trucks and Homeland Security cars.
“This is how the scariest experience of our entire lives started,” said Eileen Connors, 24, in a statement to immigration attorneys with The People’s Justice Center.
Eileen and her husband, David, were taken to an immigration holding center in Washington state. Allegedly forced to sleep on a “dirty floor” for the night, they were asked whether they had any family members in the United States they could be released to.
However, immigration officials didn’t follow up, opting instead to send the Connors to Berks Family Residential Center near Redding, Pennsylvania, on October 5th.
The Connors say their treatment worsened at Berks, which they claim isn’t outfitted to care for a child as young as their son. Some of the Connors’ caretaking supplies, like baby formula and teething powder, were confiscated upon arrival. Eileen says her baby didn’t even have clothes for a short period, since staff took his for washing.
“This facility is frigid,” said Connors. “The staff here first told us they cannot turn on the heat in the building until the end of next month,” even though temperatures have been diving into the low 50s. And Eileen says her son’s health is suffering because of it.
Connors’ account invites parallels to last summer’s family separation debacle along the U.S.-Mexico border—according to Eileen, an official offered to “remove” the baby so it could be better cared for elsewhere.
“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.”
However, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials have begun pushing back against the Connors’ narrative. A senior CBP official told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they have a video recording showing the Connors’ car pulling into a “deep ditch” on the Canadian side of the border, before rapidly scaling it to cross into the United States. They also say that Eileen and David had over $16,000 in Canadian currency inside their vehicle.
The couple, adds CBP, had previously been denied entry into the United States. Efforts to return the family to Canada were reportedly unsuccessful—Customs and Border Patrol claims their Canadian counterparts refused to take the family back.
Nevertheless, attorneys for the Connors family say that CBP’s observations don’t mean much. One lawyer said the cash wasn’t just for David Eileen, but the many other relatives they’d been traveling across Canada with. And the officials’ refusal to take them back was simply bureaucratic—since neither David nor Eileen are Canadian citizens, Canada lacks the power to intervene.
“We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lie to,” Eileen said. “We have been traumatized […] this would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens, or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.”
The Inquirer notes that the couple’s account is similar to that of a French jogger, 19-year old Cedella Roman, who was arrested after accidentally crossing the same border area and pausing to take a photo of a picturesque view.