Human rights abuse at 30,000 feet

Researchers document abuse of non-citizens at airports and airplanes in previous administrations.

Each year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deport over 200,000 people in nearly 200 countries. Forcibly evicting so many people to so many places is no easy task. To carry out this monumental task, ICE has created a complex system of airports and airplanes and, apparently, widespread human rights violations.

In one paper Released last fall, three legal experts shed light on what they call the history of human rights violations committed by ICE at airports and on planes used for deportation.

Immigration advocates have long critical Treatment of non-citizens by the ICE. Much of this criticism has concentrated on civil and human rights offenses in ICE detention centers. But the ICE airline network — and rightly so called ICE Air – operates largely outside of public control and can also be a place of abuse.

From 2010 to 2018, ICE Air transported nearly 1.73 million people on more than 15,000 flights. ICE Air has succeeded in fly under the radar mainly because of its complexity and increasing privatization.

In 2010, ICE started outsourcing the complicated task of carrying out eviction flights to private charter operators. More recently, ICE subcontracting to a single broker, who subcontracts with other charter companies, who in turn often hire their own subcontractors. Subcontractors must then Contract with other companies that coordinate logistics and pay airport charges. This multi-subcontractor layered structure has obscured transparency and hinders attempts to learn about the inner workings of ICE Air.

In their article, however, the law professor Deborah M. Weissman, lawyer Havan M. Clark and professor of human rights Angelina Snodgrass Godoy accuse that many of the human rights violations that ICE Air both facilitates and creates happen behind the veil of this privatized “network of operations”.

ICE Air officials “help and encourage” rights violations by execute illegal evictions, claim Weissman, Clark and Godoy. This happens, for example, when ICE deport non-nationals while their legal proceedings are still pending, violate constitutional rights to due process. In one case, ICE deported a mother and daughter the same morning they were due to appear in court for a hearing to temporarily suspend their deportation, according to Weissman, Clark and Godoy. Indignant, the judge overseeing their case ordered ICE to “turn around … and bring these people back to the United States.”

The case of this mother and her daughter is not an isolated incident. Between 2011 and 2018, ICE’s own records reveal that ICE Air has deported over 8,000 non-citizens with proceedings pending at the time of deportation. In addition, ICE has regularly delete non-citizens who have obtained immigration assistance, non-citizens whose deportation are legally wrong, and even US citizens that ICE errors for non-citizens. Once expelled, these individuals to have virtually no way to get a successful remedy. Weissman, Clark and Godoy explain that when ICE Air transports illicit deportees, it perpetuates “The underlying rights violations”.

They also report human rights abuses committed by ICE Air at the airports and planes that make up the agency’s network. In an infamous incident implicating 92 non-Somali nationals, ICE agents “punched and kicked people, strangled them, stepped on their chains and threw them to the ground, spilling blood and causing injury ”. In another, ICE agents strength 15 deported in “body bags” and tied them “tight with many velcro belts” before dragging them on the plane.

These are some of the incidents that have come to light. Weissman, Clark, and Godoy assume that many other accounts never surface largely because most deportation flights cause expelled from disappearing from the perspective of US human rights activists monitoring these cases.

But human rights organizations, through persistent investigations, have discovered no more ICE Air abuse accounts. A document obtained thanks to a Freedom of information act request, for example, revealed 99 complaints whose summaries included the word “leak”. In a complaint, a Salvadoran woman miscarriage triplets in an ICE Air plane after suffering violence at the airport. Another complaint revealed that a Honduran woman died during her deportation flight. Other shown ICE agents humiliate the deportees, calling them “scum” and accusing them of “taking our jobs”.

According to Weissman, Clark and Godoy, this treatment violates several basic human rights such as human dignity, the right not to be subjected to torture and “the right to due process”. Various international treaties, agreements and standards require the United States to respect these rights. And to make sure, the defenders have made creative strategies to fend off ICE Air. They are, for example, pressing local government to stop cooperating with ICE Air, thus limiting eviction flights from local airports.

Events that unfolded in King County, Washington exemplify this strategy. University researchers had documented human rights violations perpetrated by ICE Air and published their findings expose how ICE and its contractors “turned the lives of many deportees upside down” at the King County Airport. Lawyers then used these findings as part of a successful political campaign targeting local officials, who issued a decree banning eviction flights from using the municipal airport, located near an ICE detention center used to detain deportees. As a result, ICE must now confuse deportation flights from another airport, approximately 150 miles away, creation “Significant operational difficulties and additional costs for ICE”.

Weissman, Clark, and Godoy view the success of Washington State defenders as a way for the public to hold ICE, and in particular ICE Air, accountable for human rights violations. They Argue that, unless and until ICE reforms its practices, local activism may be the most immediate and effective way to counter the abuse of ICE Air.

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