BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — As the sun was rising on Friday morning, a charter bus pulled onto the tarmac at Brownsville South Padre International Airport and dozens of shackled and handcuffed migrant men were frisked by security officials and then loaded onto a charter flight bound for the central Mexican city of Querétaro.
Border Report witnessed the migrants loaded onto the Swift Air charter flight, which took off at 8:17 a.m. and landed in Querétaro an hour later, according to the FlightAware app that records the real-time flight status of all commercial flights worldwide.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has for years flown what they call ICE Air flights from this Brownsville airport using charter planes. ICE Air Operations is located within the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Removal Division, which provides “air transportation services to ERO’s 24 field offices, to facilitate the movement of aliens within the United States and the removal of aliens to destinations worldwide,” according to the agency’s website.
Border restrictions have been in place since March under what the Trump administration calls Title 42 to protect the public health from the threat of coronavirus. All of the migrants who were loaded wore masks and all of the security personnel had masks and gloves. We were told by migrant advocates that this flight was a Title 42 expulsion flight.
As Border Report was filming the men boarding the plane, a man who identified himself as an ICE agent ordered the filming to stop even though it was taking place from in the parking lot outside the airport.
The photos above were taken before and after an ICE Air deportation took off Friday from Brownsville South Padre International Airport. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)
Border Report continued to film for about seven minutes until everyone was off-loaded from the bus and the plane took off. An estimated 50 men were believed to have been loaded onto the flight, which had arrived from Laredo, Texas, earlier in the morning.
Multiple migrant advocates and immigration lawyers told Border Report that ICE had plans to deport up to 28 migrant families from federal detention facilities in Dilley, Texas, and Berks, Pennsylvania, on Friday. This includes several families with young children who have been held at the 2,400-bed South Texas Family Residential Center, the nation’s largest immigrant detention center, which is located southwest of San Antonio, according to the migrant advocacy group Aldea–The People’s Justice Center.
The group claimed in a news release sent late Thursday that the deportations were following a federal court in Washington, D.C., earlier this week lifting a stay of removal that had been preventing the deportation of these families. The families, including several young children, were to include migrants from Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador, according to the news release.
A lawyer for one of the families said a temporary restraining order was issued late Thursday to prevent the deportation of a 4-year-old girl from Ecuador who has a broken arm and requires surgery, said Shay Fluharty, an immigration lawyer with Proyecto Dilley, which is part of the Immigration Justice Campaign.
Fluharty said the families were separated for deportation Thursday evening at the facilities in Berks and Dilley. And then she said they lost track of them.
“We don’t know where they are. They were whisked away to be deported. They’re currently, I believe at airports,” she said Friday morning.
On Dec. 13, CBS News reported that U.S. border officials expelled at least 66 unaccompanied migrant children without a court hearing or asylum interview and despite a federal judge’s order, something the Trump administration acknowledged as a “contravention” of the ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan in November ordered the Trump administration to stop expelling immigrant children who cross the southern border alone.
Border Report has asked ICE officials if dozens of families were slated to be deported today and, if so, from which airports. This story will be updated if information is received.