Tracking ICE’s Death Flights

October 14, 2020 | Texas

By Sara Albanna and Cheasty Anderson

During the constant onslaught of anti-immigrant policies during this Administration, there are many organizations doing heroic and important work – the kind of work that will enable us to retrace our exact footsteps and offer proof in the face of those who would deny what our nation did in this dark hour. One of those groups is Witness at the Border. Witness at the Border originally began as the efforts of one man, Joshua Rubin, who stood in opposition to family separation in 2018. Over time, supporters joined him. 

Today this all-volunteer group monitors, tracks, and reports on internal transports and deportation ICE flights as part of bearing witness to the human rights abuse of asylum seekers and refugees. The CDF-TX immigration team wants to uplift the work they are doing. In particular we’d like to highlight a recent report they produced. This report archives and contextualizes the number of ICE flights from January to August 2020. Here are some key findings:

  • There have been a total of 3,171 ICE Air Flights, of which 51% were deportation-related and 49% were domestic flights between detention centers. 
  • ICE flights deported people to 16 different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 
  • Through July, 165,408 people were deported to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. 
  • On March 20, the CDC issued an order (Title 42), which allows asylum seekers from a country with COVID-19, or who traveled through a country with COVID-19, to be barred from entering the US on public health grounds. 
    • Thus far, 147,866 people have been expelled from the US under this rule. 
    • This number includes almost 9,000 unaccompanied minors who were deported, alone, back to the countries they had fled. 
    • Both border patrol encounters with Mexican nationals and deportation flights to Mexico have significantly increased due to Title 42. 
    • In August 2020, 90% of the border encounters were expelled under this CDC order. 

It is important to point out that ICE has continued to deport and transfer migrants between facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to new exposure and COVID-19 outbreaks. Between April and June, there were a minimum of 195 transfers where migrants were either transferred from facilities with no positive cases to facilities with positive cases or vice versa. In one instance, ICE transferred people who tested positive to Farmville Detention Facility in Virginia, which directly caused an outbreak of more than 300 cases. Since February 2020, there have been 6,271 individuals who are or were in ICE custody that have tested positive for COVID-19, and currently there are 101 detention centers with COVID-19 cases. 

Meanwhile, regarding deportations, ICE policy states that no one with a temperature above 99 degrees could be deported. However, there have been reports of ICE instructing officers to turn on the air conditioners so that migrants with fevers could pass the pre-deportation temperature check. There is also a lack of accurate COVID-19 testing before and after deportation, and Witness at the Border’s report documents cases where migrants tested positive on arrival in the countries they are deported to.

The pandemic has not stopped ICE from violating the human rights of health and safety for migrants. Instead, ICE has continued endangering them. This reckless and unlawful activity must stop immediately. We extend our gratitude and respect to the volunteers at Witness at the Border for bringing to light ICE actions that would otherwise be hidden from the public. We cannot afford to let this willful flaunting of human rights, as well as violations of international asylum law, slide under the radar.

Read the full report here.

Click here to explore Witness at the Border’s website.


Other Resources

Whistleblowers Say an ICE Detention Center Used Deceptive Tricks to Conceal COVID Outbreak

Impact of COVID-19 on the Immigration System

U.S. immigration officials spread coronavirus with detainee transfers

Freedom for Immigrants Detention Map

ICE keeps transferring detainees around the country, leading to COVID-19 outbreaks