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British family says detained in US for making wrong turn

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — US authorities are disputing the account of a British couple who claim they have been held in dire conditions with their three-month-old son for nearly two weeks after mistakenly straying into the US from Canada.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested the family on October 2 for entering the country illegally from British Columbia where they were vacationing with another couple and their two children.

The family has said that they ended up in the United States after swerving down a road to avoid hitting an animal.

Officials, however, have disputed their account and say the couple's vehicle was seen on video "slowly and deliberately" driving across the border.

"A vehicle was observed via remote video surveillance system turning west onto Avenue 0 in British Columbia, Canada, at approximately 9 pm, Oct 2," CPB said in a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday. "The vehicle then turned south and entered the US illegally, by slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Lynden, Washington.

"The vehicle travelled west on Boundary Road continuing on the United States' side, and was pulled over by a Border Patrol agent a short time later," the statement added.

Officials said record checks revealed that one of the couples had previously been denied authorisation to come to the US.

"Attempts were made to return the individuals to Canada, however, Canada refused to allow their return and two attempts to contact the consulate for the United Kingdom were unsuccessful," CBP said.

In a sworn statement shared by immigration attorneys helping the families, Eileen Connors, 24, gave her account of what happened, saying it was "the scariest experience of our entire lives".

The Connors said they were turned over to immigration agents in Washington state after sleeping on a "dirty floor" in a border patrol station.

They were then transferred to a detention facility across the country in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 5, where they say conditions worsened.

"This facility is frigid," said Connors in her statement carried by US media. "The staff here first told us they cannot turn on the heat in the building until the end of next month," despite temperatures plunging at night.

- 'They didn't know' –

Connors said her three-month-old son's health has suffered as a result and he woke up a few days ago with a swollen and teary eye and "his skin is rough and blotchy".

She said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees had offered to remove their baby, echoing accounts of parents separated from their children at the US southern border.

"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."

An ICE spokesman disputed the family's account, describing the facility in which they are held -- Berks Family Residential Center -- as having "an outstanding track record."

The spokesman said the centre "is regularly awarded exceptional ratings concerning the health, safety, and treatment of its residents."

It was unclear where the other couple and their two children, who are related to the Connors, are being held.

In a tweet, Bridget Cambria, the Connors' attorney, said the CBP statement on how events unfolded did not contradict what the family said other than the car entered the US "deliberately".

"The families were told there was video footage," Cambria said. "They didn't know it was the US and simply wanted to return."

Authorities said the couple and their baby would be sent back to Britain, a process that takes about two weeks.


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