British family “emotionally and psychologically destroyed” by detention in US immigration prison

By Norisa Diaz
17 October 2019

A British family vacationing in Canada has been deported from the US after being confined to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for nearly two weeks after they accidentally crossed into the country outside an official entry point and were detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents on October 3.

The seven-member Connors family was visiting Vancouver near the US-Canadian border when, according to a statement provided by the family’s attorney to NBC News, an animal in the road forced them to make a sudden detour down an unmarked road.

Shortly after the turn, a police car pulled over the two adult couples and three young children and notified them that they had crossed the border. The family asked if they could “simply turn around” and go back to Canada but were denied.

Eileen Connors described that beginning at that moment her family would then suffer from “the scariest experience of our lives,” according to a complaint filed Friday to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland.

Connors and her entire family, including her 3-month-old son, were detained, separated, and spent a horrific first night in an undisclosed Border Patrol station in Washington state.

Connors, 24, and her infant son were put in “a very cold cell,” often referred to as “Hieleras,” or “iceboxes” by immigrants.

Eileen Connors reported that they were issued “metal-like, thin emergency blankets” to keep warm, and food “not even apt for animals,” according to the complaint. “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,” Connors wrote.

The next day the family was relieved to be reunited at the Seattle airport. Denied any knowledge of their destination, the Connors assumed they would be returned to Canada or sent back to the UK. Instead they were flown to Pennsylvania and spent nearly two weeks detained at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, which has been decried by immigrant advocates as a “baby jail,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer .

“The blankets and sheets in our room have a disgusting smell, like a dead dog,” Connors wrote in her complaint. “I cannot use them to wrap up my baby for fear they haven’t been washed properly and my baby will become sick.”

Eileen Connors reported that her baby “woke up with his left eye swollen and teary” on Friday and his skin was “rough and blotchy.” Officials told the Connors that the infant was “a bit young” to be at the facility and asked the family if they would sign papers allowing him to be taken from them, according to the family’s statement.

“We were shocked and disgusted at the thought of our baby being taken from us, and ever since I cannot sleep thinking that someone might come in and take him from me,” Connors reported.

Beyond the horrific conditions, the Connors were not given an opportunity to call the British Embassy and had to rely on family members to reach out on their behalf. Eileen Connors stated that she learned later that the Embassy had tried to contact her family while they were detained on October 7 and accused detention center staff of purposely withholding information until it was too late in the day to call back.

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that the legal agency assisting the family received word from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who "confirmed that they have been removed to the U.K." but it is not clear when exactly the family was released and they have yet to be confirmed safely returned to the U.K.

CBP released a statement earlier this week justifying the crude treatment of the family, claiming that they were “slowly and deliberately driving through a ditch” between parallel roadways on the U.S. and Canadian sides. However, widespread public backlash has since quieted CBP’s claims that the family was deliberately attempting to enter the United States from Canada.

“We will never forget, we will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” Connors wrote in her sworn statement. “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.”

ICE officials continue to dispute their claims of mistreatment. With a fascistic tinge, officials claimed that the federal government, “provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process,” and “Reports of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false.”

The tragic experience faced by the Connors family is a small glimpse into the horrors faced by the hundreds of thousands who are fleeing their homes in Central America due to gang violence and poverty, undertaking a perilous journey only to be detained, separated, and abused in America’s sprawling network of concentration camps.

President Donald Trump, however, still views the current immigration system as not sufficiently brutal enough, and its leadership as not sufficiently fascistic enough.

This past week, Trump announced via Twitter that Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of Department of Homeland Security, the agency which oversees ICE and CBP, had resigned and that a replacement would be announced this week.

During his six months as acting secretary, McAleenan oversaw one million border arrests during the 2019 fiscal year. He also worked to speed up construction on hundreds of miles of Trump’s border wall across the desert and took a lead role with former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in carrying out the “zero tolerance” child separation policy.

In the last few months McAleenan shepherded the signing of sadistic agreements with the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador that label the notoriously violent countries as “Safe Third Countries” and restrict asylum applications to the United States.

Despite these measures, McAleenan is viewed by the far-right forces in Trump’s fascist circle as an “Obama guy.” Mark Krikorian, the director of the right wing anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, noted that “The DHS secretary should be somebody who is completely part of the team, and while McAleenan is not some guerrilla fighter of the resistance, he’s not really totally on board the Trump train.”

While it has not been announced, speculation is pointing to the position being given to Ken Cuccinelli, the current acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Cuccinelli is an open fascist who has compared immigrants to “rats,” continues to maintain that the US is being “invaded” and supports the use of “war powers” to block asylum seekers. He has also argued for ending birthright citizenship in direct violation of the US Constitution.

Most recently, Cuccinelli has overseen the introduction of the Public Charge rule, barring more green card applicants who have used public assistance. He has also transferred responsibility for “credible fear” interviews from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers to CBP agents. Only once claims are deemed “credible” are migrants allowed to present their asylum cases before an immigration judge.