Things That Matter

ICE Air Is A Real Airline That The Government Uses To Deport Thousands Of Migrants Every Day

In news that many don’t realize, the government is operating a charter airline called ICE Air for the sole purpose of deporting thousands of migrants each day.

The airline, which is really called ICE Air, transports people who have received orders of removal to their country of origin. For many, that is a dangerous move that has resulted in people’s deaths shortly after arriving back in their origin country.

ICE Air is a real airline and it’s funded with taxpayer dollars.

The Washington Post released an article over the weekend detailing the exclusive press trip aboard ICE Air. A Univision television crew and Matt Albence, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were on-board a flight from Louisiana to Guatemala.

The article itself is a wild ride and an interesting piece of reporting with a lot to be gleaned as much from what is not said as what appears in print. At one point, Albence comments on the cheers coming from some of the passengers aboard the flight. “You see? They’re smiling!” he tells Miroff, “This is probably better than some of the commercial flights I fly on.” 

The acting director of ICE thinks it’s better than flying commercial…

Credit: Reddit

Well, Matthew, pretty sure that if you were being released after being held for months, sometimes years, in questionable conditions and then shackled on a two and a half hour flight, you might let out a sigh of relief.

Here’s Univision’s coverage of “ICE Air” in 2017:

So what exactly is “ICE Air”? In a quick overview from the ICE website, ICE Air Charter Operations is a network of chartered flights which act as the last step of deportation for many Central American immigrants. There are five ICE Air locations throughout the United States – San Antonio and Brownsville, Texas, Alexandria, Louisiana (where the press trip flight took off from), Miami, Florida, and Mesa, Arizona. Destination flights typically land in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Each flight costs $7,785 per flight hour.

2.5 hours, at the short end. 9 flights per week. About 130 people on the flight (assuming the flight is full). Carry the one. Round up to the nearest ugh. It all adds up to a pretty expensive operation for a method that may not even be that effective. Many of the passengers Miroff talked to planned to go back to the United States when they were able.

And ICE Air is currently under scrutiny for alleged misconduct and abuse.

The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights has been studying ICE Air for the past year. The lack of transparency that haunts the initial article mentioned here, also shows up in a big way in the report the research team put out in April 2019. 

The team were able to analyze the data pulled from ICE’s Alien Repatriation Tracking System obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. Upfront, they acknowledge the challenge of studying this leg of the deportation process considering the data missing from the set like the failure to make distinctions between flights used to move people between detention centers and flights on what ICE calls removal missions, how many people are being transported by commercial flights and unwillingness to release safety reports.

Even so, the report sheds a lot of light on the operation and some of the things reported in the Miroff article. 

For example, ICE would only release information on a fraction of the passengers on the press trip flight. To read it, one gets the impression that over half of the people on ICE air flights have a criminal past and it seems to be the only story that can be told. However, the UW report reveals that 52% of detainees on deportation flights have no criminal record. 

In fact, if you look closer at that other half of the flight that does NOT have a criminal record, you might be likely to find some folks on the plane who are still undergoing court proceedings, their lawyers finding out about client deportation AFTER the fact in some cases.

More troubling is the documentation of abuses aboard these flights.

Among the claims made by deportees, they found reports of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and denial of access to restrooms resulting in passengers soiling themselves in their seat (which may explain the air freshener). From the UW report: “A Salvadoran national, for example, described being called “scum,” accused of “taking our jobs,” and watching other deportees stumble on the tarmac when shoved while wearing leg shackles at King County International Airport in Seattle.”

While these incidents are few and far between given the scope of mass deportation from the U.S., UW plans to provide further documentation regarding human rights abuses in a new report they are hoping to publish after receiving documents requested under FOIA that have been slow in coming.

And of course, we must not forget what some of the people on this flight will be going home to.

2018 TIME article documents the economic and social reasons why people are fleeing from Central America and continuing on to the United States. While international refugee law prohibits refoulement, the forcible return of asylum seekers to a place where they would be at risk of torture and inhumane treatment, over three quarters of refugees from Mexico and Central America are denied asylum.

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Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

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Activist Couple Was Married At The Border Wall Where They First Met Six Years Ago

Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

With all the uncertainty and traumatic news happening around us, it’s so encouraging to hear stories like this one. And that’s exactly what this couple had in mind when deciding to have their wedding ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana – the same spot they met six years ago.

In marrying at the border wall, these two deportees wanted to bring attention to their respective causes (they both head support groups for recent deportees) while giving hope to those who are facing deportation.

Their message for those who face the traumatic experience of deportation is that life goes on and no matter which side of the border you are on, you’ll fine love, be embraced by family, and chase your dreams.

An activist couple celebrated their marriage with a ceremony at the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Yolanda Varona and Héctor Barajas celebrated their love for another this past weekend, in front of the wall that divides San Diego and Tijuana. The same wall that separated them from their loved ones. The same wall where they met.

The couple met six years ago to the date, on the Mexican side of Friendship Park, while defending their respective causes. Varona is an advocate for recently deported mothers while Barajas works to help recently deported veterans.

“Someone told me go to the wall and that I’d find a veteran who was also deported and maybe with him I’d be able to do the activism that I long had wanted to do,” she told the San Diego Union Tribune in an interview.

She added that the veteran kind of intimidated her with his uniform and good looks so she asked him if she could take a picture with him to help break the ice. The pair have been inseparable ever since that ‘date’ in 2014.

Having legally celebrated their marriage back in August, the couple decided to host the ceremony with family and friends at the same spot they first met.

For both, this ceremony was important to send a message of hope to other migrant families.

Credit: Alexandra Mendoza / Getty Images

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribue, Varona, who leads the DREAMers Moms group in Tijuana, said, “It is very symbolic because this wall separated us from our children, but it reminds us that there is life out here too and we can continue fighting from here.”

All too often the story of deportation is one of an ending. However, regardless of how traumatic and difficult the experience is, it’s important to remembre that life goes on. There is a strong community in Mexico formed from those who have been deported – and many different resources to help those readjust to their new lives.

During their special ceremony, the groom couldn’t hide his happiness. “She has always been there for me, and I want to continue to be a better person, and I know good things will come for us,” he said during their ceremony.

The couple were accompanied by friends, including members of their communities: deported mothers and veterans. The ceremony was brief, given that the beaches of Tijuana are open on reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there was no lack of dancing between the couple in front of the sunset.

Their activism work brought them together but they both share similar stories as well.

Varona, who lived with her family in San Diego, was deported more than a decade ago, while Barajas, a former United States Army trooper, was involved in an altercation and after serving a year and a half in prison was repatriated to his native Mexico in 2004.

Determined to return to the U.S, Varona made another attempt at living in the U.S. without documentation but she was subsequently deported again in 2010. Upon being sent back to Tijuana, she founded the support group for deported mothers.

Barajas founded the support group for deported veterans after arriving back in Tijuana. However, in 2018, he was granted a pardon by then Governor of California, Jerry Brown, and he was able to return to the U.S. to complete the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen.

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In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

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In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

Photo: Bryan Cox/Getty Images

A bombshell report published in The Guardian alleges that ICE officers are using torture to force Cameroonian asylum seekers to sign their own deportation orders. The report paints an even starker picture of Immigration and Customs Enforcement–an agency that is already widely criticized as corrupt and inhumane.

The deportation documents the immigrants have been forced to sign are called the Stipulated Orders of Removal. The documents waive asylum seekers’ rights to further immigration hearings and mean they consent to being deported.

The asylum seekers allege that the torture in ICE custody consisted of choking, beating, pepper-spraying, breaking fingers, and threats on their lives.

“I refused to sign,” recounted one Cameroonian asylum-seeker to The Guardian. “[The ICE officer] pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”

He continued: “They put me on my knees where they were torturing me and they said they were going to kill me. They took my arm and twisted it. They were putting their feet on my neck…They did get my fingerprint on my deportation document and took my picture.” Other witnesses recount similar violent experiences.

Experts believe that the escalation of deportations is directly related to the upcoming election and the possibility that ICE might soon be operated under a different administration. The theory is that ICE is coercively deporting “key witnesses” in order to “silence survivors and absolve ICE of legal liability.”

“In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, to The Guardian.

Many of the Cameroonians who are in the U.S. to seek asylum have legitimate claims to danger back in their home countries. Many of these Cameroonians come from an English-speaking minority in Cameroon that are violently target by the government there–some have died. The violence has been condemned by The United Nations and Amnesty International.

As with many immigrant stories of people who are seeking asylum, these immigrants’ lives are in danger in their home country. They are coming to the United States for a better life. But instead, they are faced with the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whom they claim brutally mistreat them.

According to report, the U.S. is deporting entire airplanes full of asylum-seekers back to their home countries–deportations that have not been given due process and have been authorized under duress.

An ICE spokesperson contacted by The Guardian called the reports “sensationalist” and “unsubstantiated” while roundly refuting the claims. “Ice is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. Ice provides safe, humane, and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” she said.

Read the entire report here.

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