Family arrested after driving through B.C. ditch into Washington state sent back to U.K.
They veered into U.S. after trying to avoid animal on road, family says
A family of seven who entered the United States illegally by driving through a ditch from British Columbia have been sent back to the United Kingdom.
Eileen and David Connors and five other family members spent nearly two weeks at the Berks Family Residential Centre, a detention facility in Pennsylvania, after being caught "slowly and deliberately" driving through a ditch into Blaine, Wash., on Oct. 2.
The family is no longer at the detention centre, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed they had been sent back to the U.K., according to a statement Wednesday from the family's legal representative, which had earlier called for their immediate release.
In a sworn statement shared by the family's lawyer, the family claimed they were living in poor conditions at the centre, with frigid cells and blankets that smelled "like dead dog," Eileen Connors said in the document.
"We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights and lied to," she said. "We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us."
But ICE called the family's allegations of poor conditions at the detention centre "unequivocally false," adding the centre where the family was being held provides a safe and humane environment for families.
'Scariest experience of our lives'
According the statement, the family's trouble began when they made a "brief detour" onto an unmarked road while trying to avoid an animal in B.C.
Their rental vehicle was spotted on surveillance by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and was pulled over. The couple and their three-month-old baby, along with two adults and their twin daughters — all U.K. citizens — were arrested.
It's a moment the vacationing couple say turned into "the scariest experience of our lives," according to a complaint the Connors has filed with the U.S. government.
Customs and Border Protection officials said they tried to return the group to Canada, but they were refused re-entry. After two unsuccessful attempts to contact the U.K. Consulate, the family members were turned over to ICE.
In the statement, the legal organization Aldea representing the family said nothing justifies the "imprisonment of babies and toddlers" and maintains the family took a wrong turn to end up on the U.S. side of the border.
"The family was travelling in a Canadian rental car, with enough Canadian money to cover the expenses of a prolonged trip by land for a family of seven, including three small children," the statement said.
"The family never attempted to conceal their money and in fact repeatedly requested to be allowed to use their own funds to go home. Besides sufficient funds, the family had valid passports to travel back to their country."