British family deported after illicit U.S. border crossing: agency

A British family that made an unauthorized crossing from British Columbia into the United States was deported Wednesday after nearly two weeks in federal custody, ending an ordeal that family members called the worst of their lives.

The extended Connors family, which includes four adults, toddler twins and an infant, had been held at a detention centre in Berks County, Pa. They've since been returned to England, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.

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Eileen Connors, 24, has said she and her family mistakenly crossed the border into Washington state while trying to avoid an animal in the road on the Canadian side near Vancouver and were swiftly taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol. Connors' affidavit said family members were subsequently incarcerated in a series of cold and dirty immigration facilities and "treated like criminals" as they waited to be sent home.

The family said it was vacationing in the Vancouver area.

U.S. officials have asserted the family crossed the border on purpose, noting their vehicle was observed "slowly and deliberately" driving through a ditch to cross into U.S. territory in Blaine, Wash., on Oct. 2. Two of the family members had previously been denied entry to the U.S., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The agency said that border agents tried returning the family to Canada, but Canada refused to have them back. After making two attempts to contact British consular officials, the border patrol said it turned the family over to U.S. immigration officials for removal proceedings.

Family representatives blasted the border agency's response Wednesday.

"We are not surprised that the agency would put the character of non-citizen victims of their misconduct and neglect into question to justify their actions. This is CBP's typical response to accountability. However, their communication in no way contradicts the family's account that for a brief moment they turned into an unmarked road on United States soil," said a statement from Aldea — The People's Justice Center.

The Pennsylvania-based immigrant advocacy group added "there is nothing that justifies the imprisonment of babies and toddlers, for any period of time."

The family had been detained at the Berks County Residential Center outside Reading since Oct. 5. In her affidavit, Eileen Connors described a frigid facility with dirty, malfunctioning bathrooms and uncaring, negligent staff.

Her complaints have been echoed by other detainees at the Berks facility, one of three family detention centres in the U.S. that hold children and parents who are seeking asylum or who entered the country illegally. Activists have long called for the detention centre's closure.

Aldea, which represents immigrant families detained at Berks, said the facility currently holds 27 children, including seven children under the age of 5.

U.S. immigration officials have said the Berks centre "has an outstanding track record."

An email seeking comment from British consular officials in New York on the family's treatment in U.S. custody was not immediately returned.

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