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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Advocates spent the first half of 2019 assisting thousands of migrants with asylum claims and fighting for better conditions at overcrowded detention centers. Now, some are just tying to keep them from being deported.

On Tuesday, a small group of activists held signs and handed out fliers at El Paso International Airport urging people to tell the city not to let its airport be used for deportation flights.

Protest organizer Debbie Nathan said thousands of migrants are deported out of El Paso International every year and, since November, asylum seekers including family units have been placed on flights to Guatemala.

“These flights are all secret to the community. They leave several times a week and they leave before the sun comes up,” Nathan said. “We are here to make the community aware of this. … The city of El Paso owns this airport and there are other municipalities, counties and cities that have either gotten rid of ICE from their airports or are in the process of getting rid of ICE.”

Protesters dressed in black hold signs in the lobby of El Paso International Airport calling for an end to charter flights taking migrants to Central America. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

ICE is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, has been flying Central American asylum seekers to Guatemala since November, under a new “safe third country” agreement, according to national news reports.

But those countries — Honduras, for instance, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, while Guatemala is besieged by gangs — aren’t safe at all for the migrants, the protesters said.

“They are deporting them to deadly countries in Central America; they are even deporting people who aren’t from the country they are being deported to … like taking Hondurans to Guatemala,” Nathan said.

Airport officials told Border Report this week that the Justice Department does operate contract flights out of El Paso International, but the airport doesn’t track who’s on them or where they’re going. Airport officials say they’re obligated to allow government aircraft to use its infrastructure in compliance with specific federal grants.

Nathan said it’s up to the city to decide if it wants to give “love and humanitarian aid” to the refugees or live with the “stain” of the deportation flights.

“I think ultimately the city itself will have to make a decision to get rid of ICE.” she said. “We are asking people to just go directly to their representatives and to the Mayor and make their thoughts known about this.”

The protest will continue through Thursday.

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