This week the number of deportation flights to Haiti fell to a total of 4 flights. That brings the total number of flights to 74, and the total number of people expelled to Haiti by the Biden administration to 7,800 since September 19, 2021. According to the International Organization on Migration, another 2,200 + Haitians have been deported back to Haiti from other countries during this same time period – over half of them from Cuba. The other countries that have expelled Haitians are the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. This brings the total number of people sent back to Haiti to just over 10,000 in less than one month. The graphic above includes removals from the United States as of Monday, October 9 (there have been three flights since).
It is just over a year since we wrote about expulsions flights to Haiti in October of 2020. At that point we were talking about 12 flights over the course of the month, totalling about 1,100 people. Then, again in February and March of this year, there was another round of expulsion flights, leading to 2,000 people expelled over a 5 week period. This latest episode is thus the latest in a cycle of crossings, detention and removal that has focused on Haiti. For each of previous peaks in this cycle, outrage was mobilized, members of Congress spoke out, and editorial boards condemned. The practice of mass removal, however, continues. And if the response to the crossings in Del Rio is any indication, it is getting worse. And it is not just Haiti.
Prior to the debacle at Del Rio, we were writing about expulsion flights filled with people from Central America who were being removed to southern Mexico. Those flights have continued throughout the last four weeks as well. A flight every weekday to Villahermosa and Tapachula from McAllen air force base. During August there were 36 flights, and 42 in September. Witness at the Border tracks these flights with monthly reports. The latest numbers are here.
In addition, the Biden administration has added direct Title 42 expulsion flights to Guatemala over the last month – on top of the regular deportation flights that have been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The direct Title 42 expulsions flights to Guatemala began on September 2. The total number of flights to Guatemala jumped from 10 in August to 34 in September.
The explosion of flights over the past month are almost all removals under Title 42. As a reminder, Title 42 references an order issued by the CDC that claims authority under Title 42 of the US Code to deny access to regular asylum processing and expel people immediately. The use of removal flights to expel people under Title 42 began with Haitians early on during the pandemic. At the time we argued, and others have raised, that such flights undermine whatever public health justification there is for Title 42. The CDC order (and its updates since) is premised on the supposed need to avoid holding migrants in a congregant setting during the time fo COVID-19, as this poses a risk to Border Patrol agents, and presumably the migrants as well (though their health is not a high priority). For the sake of “public health,” people are denied the right to asylum and expelled immediately.
However, flights are a whole different thing. To fly people out means detaining them for some amount of time – in a congregate setting, while they await flights. This will be days or weeks. The Biden administration is thus maintaining the absurdist position that it is obligated to deny people access to asylum because of the dangers to Border Patrol and others of holding them in congregate settings during a pandemic, all while holding them in congregate settings!
This absurd position had been applied to Haitians ever since the order was first implemented in march of 2020 as Mexico refused to take them back. Now it is being applied to Central Americans and Mexicans as well, who are being detained under Title 42 while awaiting flights designed to get them as far away from the border as possible. It makes absolutely no sense at all. The UNited States government is simply denying people access to asylum because they fear the political fallout from Trumpistas if they return to a semblance of humanity at the border.
There will be more people coming – from Haiti, from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from throughout Central America. These people will not come in steady numbers, but in cycles of larger groups as travel restrictions and the long arm of US border enforcement (which reaches all the way to Panama) means people are held up for periods throughout the Mesoamerican region. They are detained, released, detained and released. It is an absurd system that will continue to generate periodic crises.
It is time to end this monstrosity. It is a system that has failed, even on its own terms, through a reliance on deterrent strategies that demonstrably do not work – as they do not address the underlying reasons people are on the move to begin with. People will keep coming. We desperately need a new system that is first prefaced on respecting the right of human mobility, and that actually seeks to address public health concerns through screening.
Title 42 is not that policy. It is a dehumanizing mess, and illegal under international law. Time to end it.
Here is what you can do now to demand an end to Title 42:
This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.
Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.
Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.
And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.
Deportation flights are a big business. Typically these flights are managed by ICE Air Operations – yes, ICE has its own airline. The chain of responsibility runs like this: Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is the entity responsible for deporting people. ERO oversees ICE Air Operations. ICE Air Operations owns none of its own planes. So, ICE signs a contract with a private vendor to coordinate removal flights.
The company that has the current contract is Classic Air Charter. For managing ICE Air Operations from October 2017 through the end of September 2022, CAC’s contract is potentially worth $739 million. Classic Air Charters doesn’t actually fly the planes either – that would be too easy. No, CAC subcontracts with other carriers to operate deportation flights. The company that flies 95% of ICE Air flights this year is iAero (formerly Swift Air). Starting in August, ICE began flying too many flights for iAero to manage, and so World Atlantic Airlines was brought back in.
Despite having this system in place, when the Biden administration made the decision to deport thousands of Haitians beginning in mid-September this year, they gave a $15.76 million, no bid contract to the GEO Group to manage the flights.
The GEO Group is a massive government contractor that runs many of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention facilities. They also oversee much of ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program (ankle monitors). If someone is given an ankle monitor, they are probably checking in with a GEO group office – not ICE. Crazy system. The GEO Group reported $1.14 billion in income through the first half of 2021.
The one thing GEO group does not do for ICE is fly planes. At least, not until September.
Like Classic Air Charters, the GEO group did not actually fly any of these planes themselves. They subcontracted with iAero, World Atlantic, Global Crossings Airlines, and Eastern Airlines (note: this is not your parents’ Eastern Airlines, but a much smaller regional carrier operating in the Caribbean). Between September 19 and October 7, there were 70 removal flights to Haiti involving about 7,600 people. At least 64 of these flights were under the GEO Group contract.
At the contracted rate, the GEO Group is receiving $179,000 per flight, or about $1,700 per person deported. This comes to at least $11.4 million so far. How much of that they turn over to the subcontractors is not clear. A typical ICE Air flight to Haiti would pay out $68,000 to contractors, at least at ICE Air’s published flight hour rate of $8,577 (assuming they also pay for the, usually empty, return flight).
The dirty little secret of immigration policy is that private corporations make a lot of money engaging in this mandated cruelty. The GEO Group typically makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year in immigrant detention contracts, for example. And they get paid even when the beds are empty, due to guaranteed minimums written into their contracts. Which is to say, the story here is not that some company made money off of deporting people. That sadly happens every day with multiple flights to countries all over the world.
The question here is why ICE is paying the GEO Group to do what they are already paying Classic Air Charters to do, but at something close to 3X the rate? The answer can’t be that CAC was over capacity, as the GEO Group is basically using the same subcontractors CAC would have. And the GEO Group has no public history of managing deportation flights for ICE. The only thing different about these flights is that they are not departing from traditional ICE Air hubs, but from airports in Laredo and Harlingen, Texas. That said, both airports are part of ICE’s network – and even if not common staging areas for international flights, they have been used for this purpose before.
So, the GEO Group is getting paid because they are a large, well connected company. Absent some compelling inside scoop suggesting otherwise, this is the only reason. Congress should be asking for more detail about this transaction.