CNN Report Looks at ICE's In-House Airline

Recently, CNN published an article that offered a brief glimpse into the removal practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CNN also recently published an article about the costs of detaining and deporting a single individual, from arrest to removal. Each deportation in 2016 cost roughly $10,854—much of it from the costs of investigation and prolonged detention.

In the same vein, this story addresses how ICE transports and deports undocumented immigrants from locations all over the U.S.—and the surprising costs that come with such a system.

Today, we take a look at ICE’s own airline: ICE Air Operations. Read below to learn more.

The High Cost of Flight Removal

ICE Air is the in-house charter plane service that ICE utilizes to deport undocumented immigrants and transport them between detention centers domestically. ICE Air is responsible for 100,000 deportations a year—a little under one-fourth of the 240,255 deportations ICE handles annually. However, ICE Air takes a far larger portion of the cost: its operations are responsible for a third of ICE’s transport and removal costs.

The price tag per flight included the cost of the:

  • Aircraft
  • Fuel
  • Pilot
  • Flight crew
  • Security
  • Onboard nurse

Since 2014, 375,000 detainees have been removed to other countries courtesy of ICE Air Operations. Each of those detainees incurred about $1,978 in costs on each flight. Due to the cost of each flight, ICE came under criticism in 2015 for not filling up their seats—one report noted $41 million in taxpayer dollars spent transporting empty seats.

ICE defended itself by citing the even higher cost of delaying a flight in order to fill up seats. They noted that detainees cost about $122 a day to house in a detention center. It would appear that if both options in a detention system are exorbitantly costly, then it’s worth exploring a third option.

The Hottest “Destination” for Removal by Air

Of all the regions in the world frequented by ICE Air—185 countries total—Central America was by far the most “popular.” ICE flights to Central American numbered at 317 last year, with over 33,000 detainees removed. Over a third of the total ICE removals every year go to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador alone—Guatemala leading them all.

However, these numbers still don’t reach the volume of detained Mexico receives annually. They are by far the nation to whom we transport undocumented immigrants the most—they’re just transported by bus or by foot rather than by air.

ICE Air’s Fleet

ICE Air Operations utilizes three different types of aircraft for removal. Their workhorse is the Boeing 737, which is used for routine flights and domestic transportation. The smaller Gulfstream IV jet is used for transporting high-risk detainees, particularly violent offenders. For flights to Cuba, ICE uses a two-engine propeller plane: the Piper Chieftain.

Increased Dependence on ICE Air Is Anticipated

The number of removals made by ICE Air in February 2017 is up 37 percent from February 2016, but that’s not entirely on the Trump Administration. President Obama’s number of deportations in December 2016 (the last full month of his presidency) exceeds Trump’s first full month by 1,000. While the White House promises (and many residents dread) a dramatic increase in deportations, they have yet to follow through—but not for lack of trying.

The recent budget proposal from the White House has asked Congress for $1.5 billion to pay for increased staffing and resources to facilitate even more deportations this year. If the White House makes good on its promises, we can expect ICE Air to continue growing in both costs and use.

At what point is the deportation expense outweighed by the cost of destroying families? Isn’t there a better way?