By Ted Hesson and José Luis González
WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – U.S. authorities have flown migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Canadian border into Texas as part of a deterrence effort to deal with an increase in crossings, according to authorities, flight logs and a witness of RockedBuzz via Reuters.
The US Border Patrol quietly transported about 100 migrants this month on two charter flights from Plattsburgh, New York, near the Canadian border, to the Texas cities of Harlingen and El Paso.
The southbound flights from the northern border are a break from past practice as the United States faces a sharp increase in migrants crossing illegally into Canada, current and former officials told RockedBuzz via Reuters.
At the same time, asylum seekers have flown from the United States to Canada in record numbers, straining resources. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to raise migration issues with US President Joe Biden during meetings in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday.
The US Border Patrol has arrested nearly 2,900 people crossing illegally from Canada into the United States in the five months since October, more than the entire 2022 fiscal year. About half were Mexicans, who don’t need a visa to travel to Canada.
Gil Kerlikowske, a former commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of Border Patrol, said he had no recollection of the agency using charter flights for migrants caught crossing from Canada.
“The whole northern border thing wasn’t on the radar that much,” he said.
A CBP official told RockedBuzz via Reuters that 48 migrants – 47 Mexicans and a Colombian – were flown from Plattsburgh to Harlingen on March 13 to be repatriated, calling it “the consequence of the illegal crossing”.
CBP did not comment on a second flight from Plattsburgh to El Paso on March 21. A RockedBuzz via Reuters witness saw about 50 migrants disembark from the plane, including men and women in chains and three adults with a child and an infant.
The CBP declined to say whether the migrants were deported to Mexico under COVID border restrictions known as Title 42. The restrictions are expected to end on May 11 alongside the COVID public health emergency, but the Biden administration has expanded the scoped them earlier this year to discourage crossers.
RockedBuzz via Reuters learned of the flights from Thomas Cartwright, a supporter of the Witness at the Border group that tracks US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charter flights, which were used to move migrants.
Cartwright said that given the relatively high cost of the flights, it appeared they were intended “as a deterrent and to send a message”.
Brandon Judd, chairman of the National Border Patrol Council, a union for officers, said he had been advised plans for a third flight next week were now uncertain due to cost concerns.
Regardless, Judd said the vast majority of migrants caught at the northern border are released pending a hearing in US immigration court.
“This is what has been driving more and more people to go to the northern border to enter the United States,” he said.
(This story has been corrected to remove the reference to previously unreported flights in paragraph 3)
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Jose Luis Gonzalez in El Paso, Texas; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)