A British family has been deported after a wrong turn led to nearly 2 weeks in ICE detention. Here's how they got entangled in a US immigration nightmare.
- A British family was deported on Wednesday following nearly two weeks in US immigration detention, after they apparently crossed the US-Canada border by accident and drove down an unmarked road.
- The Connors family has called their detention "the scariest experience of our entire lives," and bemoaned the conditions they and their three-month-old infant endured in custody.
- But immigration lawyers have pointed out that spending weeks on end in Border Patrol or ICE facilities is an all-too-common experience for immigrants and non-citizens in recent years.
- The Connors' experience shows how just one intentional or unintentional violation of US immigration law can land a family in weeks of detention with little information on their case, and seemingly no end in sight.
- For more go to Business Insider.
A British family made international headlines this week after revealing they had been detained by US immigration authorities for nearly two weeks in what they called "the scariest experience of our entire lives," after they apparently crossed the US-Canada border accidentally and drove down an unmarked US road.
Seven members of the Connors family, including a three-month-old infant and two-year-old twin girls, were arrested by Border Patrol agents on October 2, and remained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center at least until October 15.
The organisation representing the Connors, Aldea - The People's Justice Center, told Insider in a statement Wednesday afternoon that ICE had confirmed the family was deported to the United Kingdom.
An ICE official would not confirm the deportation to Insider, saying in a statement that "ICE does not discuss specific removal arrangements prior to an individual's successful repatriation" due to security concerns. But as of Wednesday afternoon, the Connors were no longer publicly listed on ICE's online detainee locator system.
The family said they were driving near the border when they swerved to dodge an animal, and drove down an unmarked road that they later discovered was US territory. US officials have disputed this, telling Insider the family was seen on surveillance video "slowly and deliberately" driving through a ditch and entering the US illegally.
The Connors went through an all-too-familiar experience for non-citizens who cross the US border illegally
The lawyers representing the Connors have filed a complaint over their treatment in custody with the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.
In a sworn statement accompanying the complaint, Eileen Connors alleged that she and her family were "treated in a way that no human deserves to be treated."
Though ICE told Insider that any allegations of abuse or mistreatment in US custody was "unequivocally false," Connors wrote that she and her children were often kept in unsanitary, freezing cold conditions, with inadequate food and no access to officials from their embassy.
"We will never forget, we will be traumatised for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us," Connors wrote.
But aside from the family's British nationality, and the bizarre way in which they apparently ended up in the US, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the family's treatment in immigration detention, Aldea said.
Spending weeks on end in Border Patrol or ICE facilities is an all-too-familiar experience for immigrants in recent years. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people will have cycled through a similar process as the Connors this year, most of them Central American migrants who crossed the US's southern border to seek asylum.
"It is typical that these families with young children are transported across the country without information, with very little food and rest, in the most inhumane conditions," Aldea said in a statement. "What's more, one of the most brutal part of immigration detention is that they do not know with certainty when it will end. Even criminals know when their sentence will end."
Canada refused to let the Connors back in, US officials said
When the Connors were arrested October 2, Border Patrol agents first attempted to send them back to Canada, and contacted the British consulate, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Insider in a statement.
But Canada declined to let the Connors back in to the country, CBP told Insider. The Canadian Border Services Agency did not respond to multiple requests for comment on their case.
Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer who practices in Blaine, Washington, not far from the area in which the Connors were arrested and detained, told Insider that it's not unusual for Canada to decline such a request.
"The Canadians have no obligation to take them back. I'm not surprised the Canadians didn't take them back," Saunders told Insider. "They probably said, 'We don't want people coming into this country who violated US immigration law.'"
Though Canadians frequently cross the US border by mistake, they are quickly picked up by American Border Patrol agents and are sent back almost immediately, usually spending a short amount of time in a Border Patrol station where their photos, fingerprints, and other personal details are recorded.
But the Connors family was more complicated because they were neither Canadian nor American, Saunders said.
It's not the first time this dilemma has cropped up - last year a French woman with a Canadian work permit accidentally jogged down a British Columbia beach into US territory and was arrested by Border Patrol.
She, too, spent roughly two weeks in ICE custody until Canadian authorities eventually allowed her to re-enter.
The Connors were supposed to be deported quickly - but it took nearly 2 weeks instead
But even deporting the Connors back to the UK appeared to be a process rife with complications. ICE officials told Insider that the Connors were transferred to their custody on October 3, where they were immediately processed for "expedited removal."
The term refers to a type of deportation that allows the US to swiftly remove non-citizens from the country, bypassing any immigration court hearings or appearances before judges.
Though expedited removals usually occur within one day, according to the National Immigration Forum, ICE officials told Insider that it takes roughly two weeks to clear and process an individual for deportation to the UK.
Saunders said that, too, didn't strike him as unusual.
"You have to get all their passports and make sure they have proper travel documents," he said. "Who knows. But for non-Canadians, it usually takes weeks or months."
'This is the normal process whether it's under Bush or Obama or Trump'
Another seemingly odd twist to the Connors' ordeal was their surprise trip to a Pennsylvania ICE detention center.
Though the Connors crossed the border north of Lynden, Washington, they were abruptly flown to a family detention center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Eileen Connors said in her statement that ICE had not told the family where they were flying, and they assumed they were being sent back to the UK.
But the Pennsylvania trip, too, is common for families in the immigration detention system, according to Saunders.
There are only three ICE detention centers in the entire country that can accommodate families - two are in Texas, one is in Pennsylvania. Saunders said there was no way for US officials to detain the family without separating them, unless they were taken to one of those facilities.
"Do I think it's overly excessive what [the US government] did? Absolutely. Every time this happens to one of my clients, I think 'what a waste of government resources?'" Saunders said. "But the problem is I think their hands are tied. Because they have to do things a certain way. They can't put the kids into some detention center with criminals, and there's only so many of these detention centers in the United States."
Saunders said that a situation like this was not unique to the Trump administration - sort of process has been a hallmark of the US immigration system for years.
"Whether you believe this story or not, this is the normal process whether it's under Bush or Obama or Trump, in order to keep the mom and the children together for reunification while they're pending deportation," he said.
Aldea told Insider in a statement Wednesday that the Connors wanted to make clear to Americans that no child should be treated as theirs were.
"We reiterate the family's message: their wish that no other baby or child goes through something like what their babies had to live through," Aldea said. "We hope that this family's unfortunate experience helps you elevate the important stories of all children in immigration detention - especially the 27 kids who remain at Berks today."