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ICE Air deportation flights resume at Boeing Field in Seattle

A plane with iAero Airways tail branding is met by a white unmarked GEO Group bus at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) on the morning of Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Photo Credit: La Resistencia

May 2, 2023

Immigrant rights groups protest first King County deportation flight since May 2019

On the morning of May 2, 2023, an ICE Air deportation flight departed King County International Airport (Boeing Field), the first such flight in nearly four years, following a federal judge’s decision overturning a 2019 King County executive order barring ICE from using the county airport. Members of the immigrant rights group La Resistencia were at the airport to document and protest, as well as express solidarity with detained people transported on the flight.

Since 2018, in partnership with La Resistencia and other local immigrant rights organizations, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) has researched ICE Air operations nationally and in Washington state; as well as documenting conditions in immigration detention at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA.

The morning’s ICE Air flight left Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport and landed at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) at 9:20am today. The flight departed Seattle at 11:03am en route to El Paso International Airport in Texas. The flight was confirmed to be an ICE Air flight by UWCHR researchers based on a number of factors, including its tail number and flight history. The plane, a Boeing 737 operated by iAero Airways and owned by Swift Air, with tail number N802TJ, is routinely used in ICE Air deportation flights, including most recently to Guatemala on April 27. 

At Boeing Field, the flight was met by a white unmarked bus of the type used by the private prison company GEO Group to transfer detained people to and from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. It is currently unknown how many people were picked up or dropped off by the flight. King County officials have stated the intention to document and publicly report statistics regarding deportation flights through the county-owned airport.

La Resistencia has committed to witness all deportation flights with the support of their collaborators. The group intends not only to witness, document, and publicize this other side of the inhumane immigration enforcement system, but also to ensure people being taken into NWDC or deported out to the infamous facility know there are efforts to support them and to end all deportations. 

In 2019, La Resistencia launched a campaign to end deportations flights alongside the publication of the UWCHR’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” report to demand King County meet their promises of not aligning with the deportation machine. The group continues fighting towards the shut down of NWDC with the latest victory of HB1470 in the State Legislature that will obligate state agencies to unannounced inspections of the private detention facility. 

“We want everyone to know we won’t give up our fight to end all detentions and deportations, and that includes all the people being incarcerated by ICE that arrive or leave NWDC in one of those flights”, said Manuel Abrego, Co-Director of La Resistencia.

“In addition to the many harms of immigrant detention and deportation, ICE Air flights involve routine violations of human rights, including documented cases of physical abuse. As long as there are deportation flights out of Washington state, the UWCHR, alongside partner local immigrant rights organizations, will continue to monitor these flights and call for accountability for those who collaborate with and profit from the business of deportation,” said UW Center for Human Rights director, Angelina Godoy.