ICE deportation flights resume at King County's Boeing Field
For the last several years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been forced to fly detainees in and out of the Pacific Northwest through an airport in Yakima, Washington.
That’s because King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an executive order in 2019 that essentially banned deportation flights at King County International Airport, more commonly known as Boeing Field.
But the following year, the federal government sued King County over the deportation flight ban. Now, due to a court order, deportation flights resumed this month.
The court order, issued in March, states that King County’s decision to not allow deportation flights to land at Boeing Field “discriminates against the federal government because other users of the airport are not subject to the limitations found in the Executive Order.”
There have been three deportation flights so far in May, but the number of immigrants being flown in and out of Boeing Field is unclear. King County officials said ICE is demanding that they submit a Freedom of Information Act request to get those details.
Meanwhile, John Parrott, Boeing Field’s director, said the county is allowing activists opposed to ICE’s deportation and detention system to observe the flights.
“I just want to be clear that the room the observers are in does not have a direct line of sight. We are using the airport’s video system to provide a live view of a portion of the ramp,” Parrott said in a recent interview with KNKX.
Activists said they are unable to see those detained from the airport’s observation room. Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist with the group La Resistencia, said more transparency is needed so her group can provide their support to immigrants.
“We need them to know that there's a group that is supporting them, that is fighting to end detentions and deportations. That is the most critical part of our work. And when the county claims that there's transparency, and they're collaborating and partnering with us, it doesn't seem like it,” she said.
Immigration advocates have also pointed out that there have been documented incidents of abuse on ICE flights and that they fear there will be more mistreatment. On Tuesday, Villalpando sent a letter to Constantine, the King County Council and others, noting that “ICE’s own documents show that for years, deportees have reported being punched, kicked, dragged, and beaten aboard planes.”
“The lack of interest from local and federal officials charged with aviation safety is alarming,” she wrote.
King County officials said they will update the airport’s webpage on the 15th of every month, starting this month, with whatever information is available about the deportation flights.
Constantine’s office said they are working with Signature Flight Support, the fixed-base operator that agreed to service ICE flights at Boeing Field, to gather information. Fixed-base operators provide fuel and other services to airplanes.
“King County remains dedicated to safeguarding the public’s right to total transparency regarding any federal actions at our airport that violate our values,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. “We will continue our longstanding commitment to creating a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people.”
Constantine first pledged to shut down ICE air flights in 2018. The following year, a report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights revealed that 34,400 detainees had been deported from Boeing Field in the past eight years. Ahead of the report, Constantine issued his executive order, noting that his “goal is to ban flights of immigrant detainees from our publicly owned airport.”
Because of the county’s ban, ICE was forced to drive detainees back and forth between the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma and the Yakima airport, an almost three-hour drive by bus.
In a statement, David Yost, an ICE spokesperson, said as of May 8 there are more than 500 people detained at the Northwest ICE Processing Center.
The agency added that ICE is “committed to ensuring that all those in the agency’s custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments under appropriate conditions of confinement.”
“Detained noncitizens in transit from one facility to another institution or jurisdiction will be transported in a safe and humane manner under the supervision of trained and experienced personnel,” Yost said.