A British couple and their three-month-old boy are being detained at a federal immigration facility in Pennsylvania after they unintentionally stepped across the border between the United States and Canada.
The Connors family was on vacation in British Columbia where they took the path of an unmarked street to avoid colliding with an animal.
“This is how the scariest experience of our entire lives started,” said Eileen Connors in a sworn statement shared by immigration attorneys with The People’s Justice Center, a pro bono legal clinic in Reading, Pennsylvania.
On Oct. 3 in Washington State, the small family was taken into federal immigration custody where they slept on what was categorized as “a dirty floor” in a border patrol station. The Connors shared that even after the family was asked about relatives in the states that they could be released to, they still ended up at the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.
It has been reported that the establishment the Connors have been placed in did not have the means to provide proper care for a baby, and essential items such as formula and teething powder were taken from them. Eileen Connors described a time period where her young child did not have on clothes while the site staff washed the clothes he had on before. Even the temperature of the center raised red flags.
“This facility is frigid. The staff here first told us they cannot turn on the heat in the building until the end of next month,” said Connors. “Even though temperatures are in the 50’s at night.”
In return, the child’s health seems to have suffered.
“He woke up with his left eye swollen and teary…also his skin is rough and blotchy,” said Connor in her statement.
Not unlike the conditions at the southern United States where the likes of a “zero tolerance” policy separates children from their parents, once the Connors family complained about their living conditions, an employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offered to remove the child from the parent’s care.
“If we wanted, we could sign papers to allow him to be separated from us and taken to some other facility. We were shocked and disgusted,” said Connors.
“BFRC provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process. BFRC supports all sanctioned local, state, and federal investigations into the safety and welfare of our residents,” said an ICE spokesman after confirming that the family was being held at the Berks Family Residential Center in a statement. He maintained that claims of abuse or inhumane conditions “are unequivocally false.”
Two other young children from the Connors’ extended family were also taken into custody.
The family is entitled to visit the United States without a visa because they are British citizens, leading to further questions.
“They could just come to the United States with a passport. The reason it sounds silly is because it is silly,” said Bridget Cambria, an attorney who worked on the civil rights complaint that has been filed on behalf of the family with the Department of Homeland Security.
Nonetheless, the family is in the middle of an immigration process. Unfortunately, people in this custody are not given access to legal counsel. Even the mixed-up arrest of a United States citizens could take months to get through as they go jump through various hoops to prove their identity while being held. Comparable stories such as that of a French citizen visiting her mother in British Columbia was arrested by United States Customs and Border Patrol after going for a jog the beach close to the city border of Vancouver and Blaine, Washington. She was held in immigration detention for two weeks in June, 2019.
The number of undocumented border crossings between the United States and Canada are steadily rising. In 2018, 4,316 people were apprehended at the border, which is a dramatic increase from the 3,027 apprehended in 2017.
Customs and Border Patrol have yet to release a statement on why the Connors family was taken into custody. Attorneys covering the case hope for the family to be released before the end of October if all communication with the British Embassy goes well.
Eileen Connors stated that the conditions that the family was subjected to were slowly improving after her talk with someone from the British Embassy on Oct. 8. However, she wrote that the entire experience will forever haunt her and her family.
“We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to. We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives,” said Connors.