The Carbon Footprint of Detention and Deportation: ICE Air Operations
Deportation and detention as practiced by the United States is inhumane. We regularly report on abuses in the system and try to encourage folks to get involved in pushing back against the Trump administration’s practices. Though not often talked about, ICE operations are also environmentally destructive. A significant source of global greenhouse emissions is the deportation and detention machine that is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Today, we focus on ICE Air operations, a particularly destructive and wasteful institution that flies people around the country to fill detention beds in addition to deporting people around the globe on flights partially full (not that we want them full!).
Yes, ICE operates its own airline, ICE Air Operations. ICE Air does not own planes. Rather it contracts with private vendors to fly people in detention around the United States, and also internationally to serve deportation orders. ICE Air has four main hubs: San Antonio, TX, Miami, FL, Mesa, AZ, and Alexandria, LA.
ICE Air operates over 2,000 missions a year, domestic and international. For example, just one plane operating out of San Antonio, TX was contracted in 2016 to fly 100 international missions in a 6 month period, 91 of those flights to Central America.
The contracts for these flights are worth a great deal of money. CSI Aviation, based in Albuquerque has been one of the main contractors for ICE Air in recent years. However, in February this year, CSI lost a bid for a new contract to Classic Air Charters (CAC) of New York. CSI filed a legal complaint claiming that GAO bidding documents were not clear enough on the scope of activity requested. In the context of that case, CSI estimated the value of their bid at $850 million dollars. If the award to CAC stands, they will receive at least $650 million.
With an administration committed to squeezing every dime of political capital it can for hyperbolic messaging about a border crisis, coupled with the very real capital these policies generate for private companies, the zero tolerance approach to immigration has become the source of huge profits. But at what cost?
In addition to the direct costs associated with deportation policies, we estimate that ICE Air Operations alone contribute 57,000 to 80,000 metric tons of CO2 a year. One metric ton represents a single cube, 27 feet to a side, of CO2. If one built a wall 27 feet wide and 27 feet high from this CO2 it would be close to 280 miles long. If compressed into liquid form, it would completely fill the White House.