October 25, 2021

U.S. sends illegal immigrants home on expensive charter flights that are largely empty

U.S. sends illegal immigrants home on expensive charter flights that are largely emptyU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be wasting loads of money flying illegal immigrants home on expensive but largely empty charter flights, according to federal auditors.

A recent review by the the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office found that better logistical planning for deportation flights could have saved ICE up to $41 million.

The watchdog agency said in a report this month that ICE spent $12 million on charter flights that were less than 40 percent full between October 2010 and March 2014.

All told, auditors found that ICE, which falls under Homeland Security, spent about $116 million on flights that were at least 20 percent under full capacity. Of the nearly 7,500 flights they reviewed, more than one-third were less than 80 percent full.

The report concluded that ICE “may have been able to transport the same number of detainees with fewer missions at a lower charter air cost.”

ICE has access to eight charter aircraft, each of which can hold up to 135 detainees. The agency pays about $8,400 per hour for the flights, regardless of how many passengers are aboard.

Not all detainees fly home on charter flights. ICE transports some of them on commercial airlines, depending upon country of citizenship, criminal status, family situation and other factors.

Auditors found that ICE “does not capture complete and accurate data essential to support operational decisions and ensure effectiveness.”

Records show that ICE picked up or dropped off 23,000 detainees at locations where its charter flights had not flown. In one example, the agency claimed to have removed 54 individuals to Nicaragua, but the flight only stopped in Louisiana, Texas and Guatemala.

Auditors also identified six cases in which ICE moved detainees multiple times between the same cities without documenting why the redundant trips were necessary.

Additionally, ICE did not track whether detainees had criminal records and did not keep information about why scheduled passengers missed their flights, according to the report.

The inspector general recommended that ICE establish reporting standards and create procedures for measuring performance with detainee flights, among other suggestions.

ICE agreed with all of the recommendations but said that empty seats don’t necessarily indicate inefficient flights. It said delaying trips to fill more seats could prove more costly in the end.

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