ICE Confirms More than 100 Deportation Flights to 13 Countries in an Eight-Week Period

An ICE Air deportation flight operated by Swift lands in Guatemala. (Courtesy of Jeff Abbott, @palabrasdeabajo)

May 21, 2020

On Tuesday, in a comment to CEPR’s Americas Blog, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson confirmed that the agency had run 112 deportation flights to 13 countries during an eight-week period beginning in early March. This is the first on-the-record comment from ICE confirming the extent of the agency’s deportations. 

Since late April, CEPR has maintained a database of “likely” ICE Air deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean (updated daily and available here). Though ICE did not provide a detailed accounting of individual flights, the overall numbers provided by ICE almost exactly match those in the CEPR database.

From March 8 to May 9, the ICE spokesperson said the agency had run 112 deportation flights to 13 countries, including 12 in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The only country outside the region to receive a deportation flight was Liberia; ICE deported a known human rights-abuser on a charter flight in late April. That leaves 111 flights to the LAC region; over the same period, the CEPR database includes 110 unique flights (as some flights make multiple stops, the database shows flights to 116 destinations).

Each flight in the CEPR ICE Air Database can be seen in the graphic below. From February 3 through May 20, the database includes 273 likely ICE Air deportation flights to the LAC region.

US Ramping up Deportations? 

Following the Trump administration’s designation of a national emergency on March 13, the number of deportation flights fell, and one of the charter plane companies appeared to stop operating on behalf of ICE. Members of Congress and international human rights organizations have called on the Trump administration to halt deportations, which threaten to spread the disease even further and prolong the pandemic.

However, recent trends indicate the US may be once again ramping up deportations even as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise globally — and within ICE detention centers in the United States. Though ICE has claimed it is following medical guidelines, those guidelines have not stopped the US from continuing to export COVID-19 through its deportation flights. In the last two weeks, three countries in the region received deportation flights after prolonged breaks. 

On May 7, ICE deported 27 Peruvians on a Swift Air charter plane. Peru was not among the countries with regularly scheduled deportation flights in fiscal year 2019, and the CEPR ICE Air database contains no other likely deportation flights to Peru since February. In a comment to CEPR, however, an ICE spokesperson said that the US had deported 253 Peruvians in fiscal year 2020 as of May 2 — indicating the recent Peru flight is likely the restart of an existing route.


Source: Flightaware.com and author’s calculations. Note: Week 16 data is only through 5/20. 

This week also saw the resumption of deportations to Managua, Nicaragua. The country had received one flight every two weeks until mid-April. The flight this week was the first in 34 days.

On May 19, two Swift Air planes flew to Mexico City: one from Brownsville, Texas and another from San Diego, California. The next day, the Mexican government confirmed that those were the first of eight flights planned over the next ten days. With the flights to Peru, Nicaragua and Mexico, ICE has now operated deportation flights to 11 countries in the region so far in the month of May. 

It also now appears that the US is once again operating deportation flights to destinations outside the LAC region. On May 19, 167 Indian nationals were flown on an Omni Air charter plane to Sri Guru Ram Das International Airport in Armitsar, in India’s Punjab province — the only known deportation outside the region other than the earlier flight to Liberia. 

On May 15, the Department of Homeland Security exercised an option on its charter flight contract valued at $50 million. The option brings the total allocated under Classic Air Charter’s (CAC) contract to $346.5 million.

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