Immigrant Flights into Westchester Airport: Finding the Truth

Washington Post Fact Check Story Provides Best Insight

By Dan Murphy

Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler writes a column titled Fact Checker, in which he takes a deeper dive into the issues of the day. His most recent story, titled, Claims of ‘ghost flights’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ don’t add up, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/04/claims-ghost-flights-illegal-immigrants-dont-add-up/) addresses the claims by Republicans, most notably here in Westchester of former County Executive and republican Gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, that an influx of flights coming into Westchester County have benefited under the Biden administration, and the flights contain not only minor refugees who traveled across the border without an adult, but also male adults, all who are being released across our region.

Kessler, as his headline indicates, disputes those claims.

Point 1: The same flights occurred under Trump. “As far as we can tell, little new or different is going on under Biden than under the Trump administration, though the pace of such flights may have increased because of the surge of migrants at the border,” writes Kessler

Point 2: ICE and HHS flying into Westchester Airport: Two different Federal agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “fly undocumented immigrants to different locations in the United States. ICE handles adults and HHS is responsible for children….In other words, the same aircraft and crew could one day be ferrying adults to an ICE detention center and the next day carrying unaccompanied minors for HHS,” writes Kessler, explaining the reason that some video footage from Westchester Airport show adults over the age of 21 getting off planes at the airport located in north White Plains.

To this reporter, this is the most important new fact, that ICE and HHS are transporting both refugees and immigrants to Westchester Airport, and that is the reason we see older passengers getting off the planes.

Kessler continues, “ICE itself transports thousands of detainees to different detention facilities, in part to maintain a 75 percent bed capacity because of pandemic protocols…“It’s important to highlight that these are individuals in our custody,” the official said. “We do not transport individuals on ICE flights that have been released from our custody or paroled into the US to await immigration proceedings.”

Another new, important fact. The adults passengers getting off the planes at Westchester are in ICE custody, and are being transported to another ICE location. They are NOT being released into the general public in our area.

Point 3: Minors Deplaning at Westchester Airport: Now that Kessler has explained why adults are getting off the planes, he addresses the issue of minor, unaccompanied refugees deplaning at Westchester Airport. According to case law from the US Supreme Court case Reno vs. Flores. Kessler writes, “In essence, unaccompanied children should not be held by Customs and Border Protection for longer than 72 hours. Instead, the federal government must release rather than detain undocumented immigrant children, first to their parents, if possible, to other adult relatives if not, and to licensed programs willing to accept custody if no relatives are available.

“Our legal responsibility is to care for unaccompanied children while they are on our watch, and that includes connecting them to vetted sponsors.” said HHS spokesman Jorge Silva.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR, is responsible for delivering the minor to a “suitable vetted sponsor as they await their immigration proceedings,” an HHS official told The Fact Checker. “ORR makes every effort to unify a child with an appropriate sponsor or family member. As a result, 90 percent of the children referred to ORR are able to be unified with a sponsor or family member.” ORR cares for children only under the age of 17.

Point 4: Flights coming in the middle of the night. This claim comes not only from Astorino, but from residents who live nearby who don’t want flights coming in after the midnight curfew.

“Administration officials said flights take place at all times of the day. Given flight routes from the border, flights in the Northeast might be at the end of a series of hops. Sometimes the federal government seeks to save money by arranging for a flight to land later in the evening. “Administration officials said flights take place at all times of the day. Given flight routes from the border, flights in the Northeast might be at the end of a series of hops. Sometimes the federal government seeks to save money by arranging for a flight to land later in the evening,” writes Kessler, who also refers to data from the Migration Policy Institute https://www.migrationpolicy.org/, which we looked into and found the following facts.

During an 8-year period, 2014-2022, 56,013 unaccompanied children were released to their sponsors in New York State. 2,529 of those children were released to sponsors in Westchester County, while 16,000 were released to sponsors in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The ebb and flow in the numbers of minors released over the past eight years shows the highest number was in 2021, 8,532 in NY State. Next was in 2019 under former President Trump, with 6,367 into NY, and third was in 2014 under former President Obama, with 5,955.

“This clears up some of the conspiracy theories we have heard from Rob Astorino to get elected governor,” said a Westchester democrat. “The GOP is losing its sanity seeking out the far out crowd on the right extreme of their party.”

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