U.K. family who said they were held by ICE after accidentally crossing Canada-U.S. border are released

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the couple "slowly and deliberately" drove across the border into Washington state.
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An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, in California last month.Gregory Bull / AP file

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By Minyvonne Burke

A British family vacationing in Canada who said they were arrested and held in detention after accidentally crossing the border into the United States are headed back to the United Kingdom after almost two weeks.

The justice center representing David Connors, 30, and his wife Eileen, 24, said in a statement Wednesday that the family was allowed to leave Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.

The Connors had been held there since Oct. 5, according to a statement from Eileen Connors.

The Aldea People's Justice Center said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "confirmed that they have been removed to the U.K." but it's unclear when the Connors were allowed to leave.

"A family is typically woken up at around 2 or 3 in the morning, asked to pack their belongings, and then taken to an airport. The government rarely provides any information regarding travel arrangements due to safety reasons," the center said. "We have no other information at this time."

In a statement provided to NBC News by the Connors' attorney, Bridget Cambria, the couple and their three-month-old son were driving with other family members near Vancouver on Oct. 3 when they swerved to avoid hitting an animal on the road and drove across the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection contradicted this account, saying the family drove "slowly and deliberately" over a ditch into Washington state.

The statement, written by Eileen Connors, said the couple has visa waivers allowing them temporary entry in the U.S., and that they were arrested by a border patrol officer shortly after crossing into Lynden, Washington.

"When we said we did not even know, and we did not intend to cross the border, the officer said it did not make a difference and we would all go into custody of the United States," the statement said. "We asked if we could simply turn around and the officer said no."

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"We were detained anyway and treated in a way that no human deserves to be treated," Connors wrote, calling the encounter the "scariest experience of our entire lives."

The other relatives traveling with the Connors, two adults and their 2-year-old twin daughters, were also detained.

Cambria said the area where the Connors were traveling has no signs to indicate that one side is Canada and the other the U.S.

But a spokesman for the CBP told NBC News in a statement that the Connors were driving on a road in Canada that runs parallel to a road in Washington. The spokesman said the roads are separated by a ditch and there are obelisks marking the border.

The agency said in a statement released Tuesday that surveillance video shows the vehicle the Connors were in traveling "slowly and deliberately" through the ditch into Washington. The vehicle continued to travel on the U.S. side until it was pulled over, CBP said. The statement also said the incident occurred around 9 p.m. on Oct. 2, rather than Oct. 3 as the Connors' statement said.

"During processing, record checks revealed two of the adults were previously denied travel authorization to come to the United States," the agency's statement said.

"Attempts were made to return the individuals to Canada, however, Canada refused to allow their return and two attempts to contact the United Kingdom consulate were unsuccessful," the statement said.

The Canada Border Services Administration did not immediately return a request for comment.

CBP said all the individuals in the vehicle, four adults and three children, were turned over to ICE on Oct. 3.

Eileen Connors said in her statement that after her family was arrested, she and her baby were taken to a "very cold cell" separate from David. She alleged that she was denied food and that they had to sleep on the floor and were not allowed to call relatives for help.

"We are in disbelief that a government would do this to human beings," she said.

After more than 24 hours being apart in different cells, the Connors were taken to an airport in Seattle but instead of going home or back to Canada as they hoped, they were put on a flight to Pennsylvania and taken to Berks County Residential Center, the Connors' statement said.

Eileen Connors described the facility as "filthy" and said the conditions are not suitable for her young son. She alleges that they were initially not allowed to call the embassy in the U.K.

"We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to," she wrote.

Cambria said she filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security inspector general and demanded the Connors be immediately released.

ICE officials released a statement saying the facility the Connors were at "provides a safe and humane environment for families," and that authorities "ensured the Connors have had access to United Kingdom consular officials."