On February 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice sued King County, WA to reopen King County International Airport (known colloquially as Boeing Field) in Seattle for deportation flights. Later that week, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights released a video explainer on ICE Air, the network of for-profit charter flights which carries out detainee transfers and deportations on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The video, produced by UW Comm Lead graduate student Wadii’ Boughdir and UW alumni Alex Montalvo and Jason Solis, with narration by UW undergraduate Alejandra Puerto, gives background on the structure of ICE Air, allegations of human rights abuses connected with deportation flights, and actions taken by King County in response to the flights at Boeing Field.
Please watch and share our video explainer on ICE Air deportation flights:
From 2010 to 2018, more than 34,400 people were picked up for deportation by ICE Air at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) in Seattle. In April 2019, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an order expressing the intention to renegotiate airport leases to stop such flights. Soon after, the companies which support flights at Boeing Field voluntarily committed not to service flights involving immigration detainees. As reported by Lilly Fowler in Crosscut, other regional airports have also declined to receive ICE Air flights.
Since May 2019, ICE Air flights have instead moved to Yakima Air Terminal (McAllister Field) across the Cascades, increasing Yakima’s role in the detention and deportation pipeline in the Pacific Northwest. Community members in Yakima, including Yakima Immigrant Response Network, have organized to monitor and document ongoing ICE Air deportation flights.
But ICE Air is not just active in the Pacific Northwest. Deportation flights take place at airports around the country and across the globe. From 2010 to 2018, more than 1.73 million people were transported for detention or deportation via ICE Air. Each of these more than 15,000 ICEAir flights was privately chartered by companies which profit from deportations, including Classic Air Charter, Swift Air (now owned by iAero Group), World Atlantic Airlines, and Omni Air. Omni has charged the U.S. government more than $1 million for a single flight, as reported by Justin Rohrlich in Quartz.
Grave reports of physical abuse and other human rights violations have surfaced regarding deportation flights, including both ICE Air charters and deportations via commercial flights. In one case reported to DHS, a Honduran female detainee died in mid air. Now, ICE Air is involved in deportations of Central American asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala, where they are faced with further insecurity, in violation of key principles of international law. Communities around the country have also begun to protest deportation flights at their local airports, including in El Paso and Brownsville, Texas.
King County has indicated that it intends to defend its policies in the face of the lawsuit by the Department of Justice. The UW Center for Human Rights continues to conduct research on this topic. Please watch and share the video, and read our reports about ICE Air deportation flights here.