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.

One Day After A Texas Sheriff Called Undocumented Immigrants ‘Drunks,’ His Son Is Arrested For Public Intoxication

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One Day After A Texas Sheriff Called Undocumented Immigrants ‘Drunks,’ His Son Is Arrested For Public Intoxication

A Texas sheriff is eating his words after his bigotted comments came back to bite him in the worst way.

A day after Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn referred to undocumented immigrants as “drunks” who would “run over” children, his own son was reportedly arrested on charges of public intoxication. It has also been revealed that his son Sergei Waybourn has been arrested before. In 2018 he was charged with assault and in recent years he was arrested for trespassing and theft.

Sheriff Waybourn’s comments sparked controversy when he spoke against undocumented immigrants at a press conference in Washington.

Last Thursday, the sheriff spoke at the conference alongside Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew Albence. Speaking in response to a ruling by a federal California judge made last month that imposed restrictions on ICE’s use of “detainers,” Waybourn underlined the consequences of releasing illegal immigrants with DWI and other crimes.

U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr.’s decision barred ICE from using online database searches to find and detain people based. Recently, the ACLU stated that since 2008, 2 million US citizens have been illegally detained because of such searches.

Waybourn pointed to his charge of inmates to give examples of high rates of repeat offenders. “If we have to turn them loose or they get released, they’re coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood,” Waybourn said according to New York Post. “These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children.”

After his comments, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens called for Waybourn’s resignation.

According to Dallas Morning News, Domingo Garcia said Waybourn ought to “resign and apologize for his bigoted comments immediately.”

In response, Waybourne said his comments had been taken out of contexts and his office released a statement saying that “Sheriff Waybourn was not referring to all legal or illegal immigrants when making his comments about DWI/DWI repeat offenders. He was speaking toward the charges of DWI and DWI repeat offender in the context of illegal immigration.”

In response to the news of his son’s arrest, the sheriff said he is “deeply saddened by Sergei’s choices.”

According to WFAA, he said that “It has been many years since he disassociated from our family. We, along with many family members have made efforts over the years to help him – all to no avail. It is always sad when drugs take control of a person’s life. His choices and actions have lead to this situation.”

More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

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More Than 700 Women Have Disappeared From A Texas ICE Detention Center And Their Lawyers Don’t Know Where They Are

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Across a network of more than 200 migrant prisons and municipal migrant jails, the US government is detaining roughly 18,000 people at any given moment. And that’s not including the more than 12,000 minors who are held in other facilities under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s.

And amid this network of for-profit private prisons and government-ran detention centers, migrants are constantly being shuffled around – often without little notice to their lawyers and even family.

This time, the agency is accused of moving more than 700 women without notifying their lawyers, family, or anyone else.

According to attorneys from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), ICE has moved more than 700 women out of a Texas detention center. And ICE gave their lawyers zero way of locating them, which is especially damning considering many of the women face serious medical conditions.

Starting on Sept. 20, the women being held at the Karnes County Residential Center were sent to other centers around the country so that the facility could be used to detain families. More than two weeks later, their lawyers from RAICES have no idea where the majority of these women are being held, and they can’t find any updated information in ICE’s online detainee tracking system.

Many of these women have serious medical conditions and not being able to advocate for their health could have fatal consequences.

“I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen,” Meza said. “I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention.” 

The situation highlights a common problem for migrants in ICE custody: They can be transferred between facilities with little notice and yet their new locations are not promptly updated in the system. If their existing lawyers and family members can’t find them, they may have to go through their cases without legal representation, especially in remote areas where legal counsel is sparse. And those with serious health issues could die if advocates who don’t know where their clients were transferred are unable to fight for their right to medical treatment. 

According to ICE, advocates shouldn’t worry because “adequate medical care is being provided to all detainees.”

An ICE official told HuffPost that “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody” adding that staffing includes registered nurses, licensed mental health providers, a physician and access to 24-hour emergency care. The official acknowledged that the women at Karnes had been transferred to other facilities, but did not explain why their locations were not showing up in the online system.

But given the deaths that have occurred in ICE facilities and the overall cruelty towards people in their custody, few people trust ICE’s ability to care for migrants.

At Karnes, some of the immigrants were allegedly being denied lifesaving care, such as cancer and HIV treatment, and that suicidal patients were not receiving psychiatric counseling. One woman with cancer in her uterus said she had not received medical treatment for more than two months. Another immigrant, who is HIV positive, said she was not getting her medication or being evaluated by a doctor, even as her symptoms worsened.

The lack of medical care in immigrant detention facilities is well-established. Eight immigrants have died in ICE detention centers this year, and six minors have died in Border Patrol centers, in many cases because they didn’t receive proper medical help for their illnesses. 

Technically there’s no legal requirement for ICE to inform detainees’ lawyers that they are being transferred. 

According to Andrea Meza, Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, ICE is not at all required to inform anyone when a detainee is transferred to a new location.

There is one exception: ICE is mandated to provide notice of transfer for Salvadorans, per the Orantes Settlement Agreement — but only Salvadorans.) Otherwise, Meza says, “There’s not really anything that requires them to give us notice as to where our clients are.” 

But even if ICE did update the platform used to track migrants in their custody, lawyers said it’s rarely that reliable.

It can take up to a few weeks for someone who is transferred to a new facility to show up in the system, which means families are often left wondering whether their loved ones have been deported back to life-threatening situations in their home countries.

“I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains,” Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigrant rights attorney told HuffPo.  

Of the women RAICES has been able to locate, some are being housed at a private prison in Mississippi that the Justice Department found so poorly-managed it issued a scathing 65-page report detailing its problems. The Federal Bureau of Prisons to ended its contract with the prison earlier this year, but now immigrant women are being sent there.