Seven members of an extended British family made an unauthorized border crossing into the United States from Canada near Lynden earlier this month and were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
They are being held in federal custody at a Pennsylvania detention center nearly two weeks after their arrest, and their complaints about how they have been treated have been detailed in media reports.
According to information provided to The Bellingham Herald by Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Jason Givens, at approximately 9 p.m. Oct. 2 a remote video surveillance system captured the vehicle turning west onto Avenue O in British Columbia.
The vehicle then turned south and entered the United States illegally, Givens said, slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Lynden.
Givens said the vehicle continued west on Boundary Road until it was pulled over by a Border Patrol agent, who found seven people from the United Kingdom — four adults and three children — inside the vehicle.
All seven were arrested at approximately 9:13 p.m. on suspicion of illegally entering the United States without inspection, Givens said.
During processing, Givens said records checks revealed two of the adults had previously been denied travel authorization into the U.S.
Agents attempted to return the individuals to Canada, Givens said, but were refused. Two attempts to contact the United Kingdom consulate also reportedly were unsuccessful.
The Border Patrol processed the seven individuals and turned them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Enforcement and Removal Operations at approximately 3 p.m. Oct. 3, Givens said.
The family said they mistakenly crossed the border while trying to avoid an animal in the road. An affidavit says family members have been “treated like criminals” by their U.S. jailers, forced to bide their time in a series of cold and unsanitary immigration facilities as they await deportation to England.
Their attorney has lodged a formal complaint over the family’s treatment with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and civil rights office.
Images from Googlemaps.com show the only the roads that cross the border in Whatcom County are at the five ports of entry.
Eileen Connors, 24, who is being held in Pennsylvania along with her husband David, their 3-month-old son, and other family members, said U.S. officials have mistreated them.
“We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” she wrote in an affidavit released by immigrants’ rights groups in Pennsylvania.
Separated from her husband, Connors described being forced to sleep with her infant on the “disgusting floor” of a cold cell the first night of her detention. From there, she was taken to a Red Roof Inn in Seattle, and eventually flown across the country to Pennsylvania.
At the Berks Family Residential Center — 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 — Connors described a frigid facility whose staff claimed they couldn’t turn on the heat until the end of November.
Bathrooms are “dirty and broken,” she wrote, and a staff member shines a light in their room every 15 minutes throughout the night. She said her baby developed a swollen, teary eye and rough, blotchy skin in custody.
“We have been treated unfairly from day one,” Connors wrote. “It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the Berks center “has an outstanding track record” and “is regularly awarded exceptional ratings concerning the health, safety, and treatment of its residents.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.