UK family detained by US visa authorities files complaint

Sanwar Ali comment:

Whatever the truth may be about this case, there has been so much bad publicity relating to US visa enforcement that people are willing to believe negative stories about the US visa authorities even if untrue.  There are allegations that the British family were treated badly.  There are actually much worse allegations about the way that migrants are treated in camps near the US and Mexico border.  

A British couple and their three-month-old baby, detained by US visa and immigration authorities after claiming to have accidentally crossed the Canadian border into the US, have filed a complaint with the US Department of Homeland Security.

The couple claim they have been left ‘traumatized’ after being held in a dirty, cold US immigration detention centre.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have strongly disputed the couple’s account of events and accused David and Eileen Connors – who were detained along with their three-month-old son Tommy and David’s brother Michael, his wife Grace and their two-year-old twin girls - of trying to enter the United States ‘undetected’.

The family were on vacation in British Columbia, Canada but claim to have accidentally crossed the border into Washington State when swerving to avoid an animal, before taking a wrong turn.

Recounting their version of events, David, 30 and Eileen, 24 said: “We crossed the border on October 3, after making a very brief detour on an unmarked road to avoid an animal on the road.”

However, US immigration officials told a very different story in a statement released by the CBP, which said: “A vehicle was observed via remote video surveillance system turning west onto Avenue 0 in British Columbia, Canada, at approximately 9 p.m., Oct. 2. The vehicle then turned south and entered the US 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. The seven occupants of the vehicle, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, were arrested at approximately 9:13 p.m., in accordance with law as established by the US Immigration and Nationality Act for illegally entering the United States without inspection.”

Two family members previously denied US B1 B2 Visit Visas

Following the family’s arrest, it has emerged that David and his brother Michael have previously been denied entry to the US. A senior CBP official said: “During processing, record checks revealed two of the adults were previously denied travel authorisation to come to the United States.”

It’s understood that David and Michael Connors attempted to enter the US under the ESTA Visa Waiver Program. However, their applications were rejected in March 2018. It’s not known why their applications were refused.

According to the CBP senior official, the group travelling in the car had $16,000 in cash in their possession when they were stopped by a US border patrol agent and arrested.

A Canadian Border Patrol agent said that attempts were made to return the family to Canada. However, Canadian officials refused to allow them back into the country. Meanwhile, efforts to contact the UK consulate were unsuccessful.

In their letter of complaint, David and Eileen Connors said: “The family have been traumatized by the ordeal. Our baby was forced to sleep on a filthy concrete floor in frigid temperatures during our first night in custody.”

Family returns to the UK

After being held in the Berks Family Residential Centre in Pennsylvania, US visa and immigration officials have confirmed that all seven family members have now returned to the UK.

A spokesperson from Aldea - The People’s Justice Center, which has been representing the Connors, said they had been released and were being ‘removed to the UK’.

In a statement from Mrs Connors, after touching down at Heathrow, she said: “It's been a complete nightmare. The one thing I’ve been really looking forward to is getting home into my own bed and just being left alone in peace with my baby.

“We've been treated horribly by the authorities in America. I thought the Americans were supposed to be friendly with the British but I saw no evidence of it. The detention centre was freezing cold and the food was disgusting. The only thing I could eat was tuna.

“My baby got a cold in there and I wasn't even allowed to give him teething salt because the sachets were confiscated. We weren’t allowed to smoke for two weeks either or have fizzy drinks. My hands are trembling, I've been a nervous wreck but we're back now where we belong - with friends and family.

“But I’m glad I’m out of the place, it was absolutely awful. So run down.”

However, a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US called Mrs Connors’ claims false.

The statement read: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody. The Berks center provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the US immigration process. Reports of abuse or inhumane conditions at the Berks center are unequivocally false.”

Family banned from the US for five years

Following their ordeal, the family has been banned from the US for five years, which Mrs Connors said she ‘deeply regrets’ because she had wanted to take her children to Disneyland in Orlando, Florida.

Bridget Cambria, an attorney who helped the Connors’ file a complaint, said: “As British citizens, the family was entitled to visit the US without a visa. They could just come to the United States with a passport. The reason their detainment sounds silly is because it is silly.”

UK-US relations may suffer

The Connors’ ordeal risks adding to tensions between the UK and US following the case of an American diplomat’s wife accused of knocking down British teenager, Harry Dunn, in a hit-and-run on UK soil.

Anne Sacoolas fled from the UK back to the US claiming diplomatic immunity much to the fury of Mr Dunn’s family.

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