The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is contradicting media reports about the detention of a holidaying British couple and their three-month-old son who made headlines in multiple U.K. and U.S. media outlets.
The couple – who as of Wednesday were being detained in the U.S., along with other members of the same family – allege they crossed the B.C./Washington State border into Washington state “accidentally.”
But a CBP spokesperson told Peace Arch News Tuesday that the vehicle in which they were travelling – on Zero Avenue – made a deliberate crossing of the border on Oct. 2.
In an emailed statement, the spokesperson also noted that record checks had shown that two of the adults in the vehicle had previously been denied travel authorization to come to the U.S.
Furthermore, the statement says, Canadian authorities refused to allow return of the detainees after the incident.
Wednesday afternoon, the spokesperson confirmed reports that the travellers also “had more than $16,000 CAD and a small quantity of marijuana, less than three grams.”
According to media reports, Londoners David Connors, 30, Eileen Connors, 24, and their infant son were taken into custody by CBP officers after the vehicle – driven by David Connors’ brother – inadvertently crossed the border after detouring to avoid an animal in the road.
(The driver, along with his other passengers, his wife and their two-year-old twin girls – apparently Canadian residents – are also in detention in the U.S. as suspected illegal immigrants.)
In video surveillance of the alleged crossing – which notes the arrest occurred in Lynden – a vehicle can be seen slowly breaching the international boundary. The video also captures what appears to be a small animal crossing the road a short distance in front of the vehicle.
NEW VIDEO: The U.K. family accused and arrested for illegally crossing the U.S./Canada border said they did so to avoid an animal on the road.— Aaron Hinks (@aaron_hinks) October 16, 2019
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the family crossed the road slowly and deliberately.
CBP released this video: pic.twitter.com/QqI1sBZnta
The couple’s sworn statement asserts the family did not realize they had crossed the border, and were stopped by an officer who told them they were in Washington State, but did not read them their rights or allow them to turn around and return to Canada.
The Connors are now being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at the Berks Family Residential Center (BFRC) in Leesport, Penn.
In the statement, the couple describe their detention as “the scariest experience of our lives.”
Eileen Connors compared their move to the Pennsylvania facility to “an abduction or a kidnapping.”
“We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” she said.
The CBP account says, however, that the vehicle was travelling deliberately when tracked by remote video surveillance.
“A vehicle was observed… turning west onto Avenue 0 in British Columbia, Canada, at approximately 9 p.m.,” the statement says.
“The vehicle then turned south and entered the U.S. illegally, by slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch onto Boundary Road in Blaine, Washington. The vehicle traveled west on Boundary Road continuing on the United States’ side, and was pulled over by a Border Patrol agent a short time later.
During processing, record checks revealed two of the adults were previously denied travel authorization to come to the U.S., the CBP spokesperson says.
“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,” the statement continues.
An attorney for the People’s Justice Centre, representing the family, has filed a complaint with the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In a statement from their lawyer provided to the BBC and other media outlets in the U.S. and U.K., the couple allege mistreatment during their continuing detention, including “frigid” cells and inadequate clothing and blankets for their child.
U.S. immigration authorities have denied allegations of mistreatment, maintaining that the facility “provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process.”
“‘Reports of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false,” an ICE spokesperson told media.