By Michael Rubinkam / Associated Press
A British family that made an unauthorized crossing from Canada into the United States was deported Wednesday after nearly two weeks in federal custody, ending an ordeal that family members called the worst of their lives.
The extended Connors family, which includes four adults, toddler twins and an infant, had been held at a detention center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. They’ve since been returned to England, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.
Eileen Connors, 24, has said she and her family mistakenly crossed the border into Washington state while trying to avoid an animal in the road and were swiftly taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol. Connors’ affidavit said family members were subsequently incarcerated in a series of cold and dirty immigration facilities and “treated like criminals” as they waited to be sent home.
U.S. officials have asserted the family crossed the border on purpose, noting their vehicle was observed “slowly and deliberately” driving through a ditch to cross into U.S. territory in Blaine on Oct. 2. Two of the family members had previously been denied entry to the U.S., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Family representatives blasted the border agency’s response Wednesday.
“We are not surprised that the agency would put the character of non-citizen victims of their misconduct and neglect into question to justify their actions. This is CBP’s typical response to accountability. However, their communication in no way contradicts the family’s account that for a brief moment they turned into an unmarked road on United States soil,” said a statement from Aldea – The People’s Justice Center.
The Pennsylvania-based immigrant advocacy group added “there is nothing that justifies the imprisonment of babies and toddlers, for any period of time.”
The family had been detained at the Berks County Residential Center outside Reading since Oct. 5. In her affidavit, Eileen Connors described a frigid facility with dirty, malfunctioning bathrooms and uncaring, negligent staff.
Her complaints have been echoed by other detainees at the Berks facility, one of three family detention centers in the U.S. that hold children and parents who are seeking asylum or who entered the country illegally. Activists have long called for the detention center’s closure.
Aldea, which represents immigrant families detained at Berks, said the facility currently holds 27 children, including seven children under the age of 5.
U.S. immigration officials have said the Berks center “has an outstanding track record.”
An email seeking comment from British consular officials in New York on the family’s treatment in U.S. custody was not immediately returned.