A British family, including a 3-month-old baby and 2-year-old twins, has reportedly been detained for more than a week in “filthy” and “frigid” conditions after accidentally driving across the U.S.-Canada border on Oct. 3 during a trip to Vancouver, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
David Connors, 30, and his wife Eileen, 24, say they are being held in Pennsylvania with their three-month-old baby and are “traumatized.”
The family told the BBC they were driving with family members when they veered onto a small road to avoid an animal.
An American police officer then pulled them over, told them they had crossed into the U.S. state of Washington and arrested them.
According to a complaint filed by the family Friday to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, this was when their trip became “the scariest experience of our lives.”
“We will never forget, we will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” one family member wrote in a sworn statement that was provided to BBC News by their lawyer.
“We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to. … It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through,” they added.
Eileen Connors, one of the mothers on the trip, alleges that she and the rest of her family, including her 3-month-old son, have been detained at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa., for more than a week in “frigid” and “filthy” conditions.
Connors alleges that when the family was initially stopped in Washington state, her husband and his cousin were arrested and were not read their rights. She and her baby were placed in “a very cold cell” at a Border Patrol station.
The family’s attorney told the Post that the cells are nicknamed “Hieleras” or “iceboxes”
“The officers left us in the cell the entire day, with no information, no call to our family back home, no idea when we would be free to leave,” she continued.
The Hill reports:
After reportedly spending the night in the cell with “metal-like, thin emergency blankets,” authorities told the family they could be released from detention if they provided the contact information for a family member living in the U.S. A relative with U.S. citizenship tried to help, but the family was later informed that there was “a change in plans.”
The family alleges that they were then taken to a van in “what felt like an abduction or kidnapping.” David Connors, Eileen Connors’s husband, was taken to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center. Eileen Connors and the 3-month-old baby were taken to a Red Roof Inn in Seattle.
When they were taken to the Seattle airport the next day, Connors wrote that she thought “finally we’re going home.” But the family landed in Pennsylvania and was taken to the Berks Family Residential Center, a facility some advocates have called “baby jail,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The other couple and their 2-year-old twins were also taken to Berks, according to the family’s attorney.
Connors alleges that she had to bathe her son on a couch using a washcloth because he was too small for the facility’s showers. She said the bathtub he was given was “filthy dirty and had broken bits,” and her son was left without clothing, blankets or bibs because the center’s staff took the items to be washed.
“The blankets and sheets in our room have a disgusting smell, like a dead dog,” Connors wrote. “I cannot use them to wrap up my baby for fear they haven’t been washed properly and my baby will become sick.”
Connors said her son woke up Friday with his left eye “swollen and teary” and his skin was “rough and blotchy.” Officials at the center said the child could be taken from the center, but he would be separated from his parents.
The Connorses also claim that they were not given the opportunity to call their embassy. In her statement, Connors said officials only told her the British embassy tried to contact her family on Oct. 7, but the staff did not tell the family until it was too late in the day to call.
As of late Monday, the British family was still waiting to be deported.