The federal government has been ferrying illegal immigrants nabbed at the southern border throughout the country, using a secret itinerary dependent on chartered flights and small regional airports, a Daily Wire investigation has revealed.
Even as the number of illegal immigrants encountered at the border has reached record levels topping 200,000 per month, the Biden administration has been secretive about where those permitted to stay are sent. Word has typically trickled out from states where uninvited flights land and immigrants disperse.
“‘Over 70 air charter flights [on] jetliner airliners coming from the southwest border have landed at Jacksonville International Airport,’” Larry Keefe, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) public safety czar, told the Washington Examiner.
The Daily Wire identified nearly three dozen charter planes believed to have been deployed to move illegal immigrants. Using flight radar data from FlightRadar24, we reconstructed the planes’ itineraries to reveal a breathtakingly complex network. The data tracks the movement of the planes, mostly Boeing 737s owned by a handful of charter-jet companies, over the last six months of 2021.
At times, the planes appear to have been returning illegal immigrants to their home countries, while at others, they appear to transport them to military bases. Still other times, they appear to be flying illegal immigrants to small airports across the U.S. where they frequently land in the dark of night to be settled nearby.
On Christmas night, for example, two flights carrying some 240 migrants from Texas landed in eastern Pennsylvania, prompting one lawmaker to observe that the border crisis was now a national problem.
“‘Wilkes Barre and Scranton are now border cities as a direct result of the Biden administration’s policies,’” Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA) remarked.
It cannot be determined from available data that all of the flights involve the transport of migrants. And some stops in the interior could be to pick up migrants to deport rather than drop them off. ICE flights are known to transfer detainees between 24 airports near field offices and make multiple stops at such facilities on their way out of the country, though those sites only account for a fraction of the cities on the map.
Still, the data, combined with the White House’s secrecy, reporting from local news media, and information uncovered by local officials, strongly suggests the federal government is essentially picking up where coyotes left off to provide illegal immigrants the final leg of transportation into the interior of the U.S.
DeSantis’s office only learned of the flights coming into Florida from local law enforcement. When state officials sought to determine who was behind the mystery flights, the Biden administration refused to say who was on them, where they were going, or even who was overseeing them, Keefe told the Washington Examiner.
“‘[We’re] having to watch and observe — in effect, spy on the government to see what it is that they’re doing in the middle of the night out of these airport facilities,’” he said.
DeSantis was furious.
“These are done mostly in the middle of the night,” he said at the time. “And it’s clandestine. And we really have no say into it. … I know when we initially got wind of this, it wasn’t through normal channels, it’s people in the federal government who are effectively leaking this to us so that we have a heads up on it.”
Typically, illegal immigrants permitted to settle in the U.S. have been unaccompanied minors who the administration seeks to reunite with sponsors, generally represented as being family members. These illegal immigrants are often unable or unwilling to verify their ages, and there is some evidence that the people who vouch for them aren’t always their relatives.
In Jacksonville, a 24-year-old Honduran named Yery Noel Medina Ulloa was charged with murder in October after telling U.S. border authorities in Texas that he was 17, the New York Post found. That meant he was treated as an unaccompanied minor and given a “Notice to Appear” before being placed in a shelter.
Ulloa was then taken in by Francisco Javier Cuellar, a man who was not a relative and who Ulloa would later allegedly stab to death. According to his mother, Ulloa knew that he’d be released into the country if he claimed to be a minor.
For some of the passengers flown from Texas to Florida, Jacksonville was just a layover. Some of the planes apparently only unloaded a portion of their passengers before continuing on to other destinations.
A reporter for the New York Post watched two planes that originated in Jacksonville land at an airport in White Plains, in the upscale New York City suburb of Westchester County. Some planes were part of the fleet of Avelo, a small airline that normally carts Los Angeles’ pleasure-seekers from Burbank to various vacation spots.
“Most of the passengers who got off appeared to be children and teens, with a small portion appearing to be men in their 20s. Westchester County cops stood by as the passengers — whose flights arrived at 10:49 p.m. Wednesday and 9:52 p.m. Friday — got off and piled into buses,” the Post wrote.
One bus took migrants to a residential facility on Long Island. Another went to a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, where the migrants were picked up by people in passenger cars, presumably sponsors.
Body camera footage from a Westchester police officer at the airport captured a federal contractor telling him the operation was secretive.
“You want to try and be as down-low as possible,” the contractor was heard saying. “A lot of this is just down-low stuff that we don’t tell people because what we don’t want to do is attract attention. We don’t want the media.”
“This is anti- all our security stuff,” the concerned officer replied.
Reached by The Daily Wire, Avelo spokeswoman Courtney Goff declined to provide details concerning her company’s nocturnal flights.
“We have operated charter flights for several organizations, including companies, nonprofits and the U.S. government,” Goff said. “All of our charter engagements are confidential, so we are unable to provide any information about the occasional charter flights we operate.”
In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a contract to Classic Air Charter (CAC), a broker that in turn contracts with several small airlines to ferry migrants from the border to destinations around the nation. CAC told the government in its application that it had deals with “three air carriers for access to 24 proposed DSLA aircraft (10 aircraft to be dedicated exclusively to ICE and 14 standby aircraft available),” a 2018 Government Accountability Office document said.
Since that year, the government has operated under an open-ended “indefinite delivery” agreement with CAC, currently worth $657 million.
“Mexican nationals ordered removed from the United States travel on domestic flights from various U.S. cities to southern cities such as San Diego, California and Brownsville, Texas,” ICE says on its website. “They are then bused to the U.S.-Mexico border for removal at a land port of entry. Other foreign nationals ordered removed are flown from various U.S. cities or [ICE Air] hub cities” — longtime ICE hubs include Mesa, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Alexandria, Louisiana; and Miami — “to Central and South America.”
Of the airplanes tracked by The Daily Wire, there were nearly 300 flights to the Dominican Republic, 154 to Mexico, 64 to Haiti, and others to Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, and elsewhere. Even as thousands of migrants from Central America streamed across the border, the Biden administration returned 53 planeloads of Cubans to the Communist nation from which they fled.
But now — at least — some of the migrant flights are domestic journeys.
Flights from a Texas border town into the U.S.
Airlines used by ICE include iAero (Swift Air), World Atlantic, and others. But an investigative document from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), is now using some of the same charter airlines for migrant flights to destinations within the U.S.
Many flights from onetime ICE hotspots appear to be essentially operating in reverse, with migrants being flown from the border to be settled throughout the U.S. Below is a map showing several destinations within the U.S. of migrant-connected flights originating from Brownsville or nearby Harlingen.
In January, Fox News captured video of single, adult males in Brownsville being placed in buses or cabs and taken to the Harlingen airport. Some migrants said they had crossed the border just that morning after paying smugglers. They would be boarding flights to Miami, Houston, or Atlanta, they said.
Not only has the government been secretive about its flights — but it has also allegedly provided false information about them.
On April 22, a plane landed overnight in Des Moines, Iowa. But when the administration of Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) asked DHS, which oversees ICE, and HHS, for details, both agencies denied that it was their flight. Initially, the state thought it had bad information — until it saw surveillance footage showing that a flight did land as described.
“With the prospect of no federal government involvement in a flight carrying what we learned were several young girls landing in the dead of night and separated into buses, we started to investigate the transportation companies involved in order to rule out human trafficking,” Reynolds wrote in a letter to Congress.
Weeks later, HHS admitted that contrary to its earlier claim, it had commissioned the flight.
Del Rio, Texas
In September 2021, cable news was dominated by news reports and videos showing some 10,000 Haitians under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Publicly, the administration said they would be sent home.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned, your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life,” a resolute-sounding DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared at a news conference in Del Rio.
While some were indeed returned to Haiti, the Associated Press also observed “wide-scale releases” that were “at odds” with Mayorkas’ assertions. One official told the outlet thousands were released.
After a Fox News drone captured stunning images of what was going on in Del Rio, the Federal Aviation Administration banned drones from flying there. It later reversed the ban after Fox News reporter Bill Melugin continued to get footage anyway by boarding a helicopter with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
El Paso, Texas
Migrants were bused from Del Rio to sites including El Paso and Laredo, Texas, or flown to Tucson, Arizona, at which point they were to be processed. Below is a map showing the flight paths of suspected migrant planes after departing El Paso bound for locations including Buffalo, New York, and Toledo, Ohio.
Deciding which illegal immigrants are sent home, which stay and where those who stay go is a “black box,” one immigrant advocate told The Associated Press.
In December, the Biden administration appeared to stop detaining families entirely, holding only single adults.
One group that was already exempted from being sent home is those who present themselves as unaccompanied minors — those under 18 and not encountered with a parent or guardian.
Unaccompanied minors settled
HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement won’t say much about where illegal immigrants, in general, are settled, but it publishes data on unaccompanied minors. It says more than 107,000 unaccompanied minor illegal aliens were resettled in the U.S. in the year ending September 2021.
That includes 15,000 in Texas, 8,500 in New York, 5,400 in Virginia, 4,300 in Georgia, and 4,200 each in Tennessee and North Carolina. The map below shows which states took in the largest number of unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants relative to their population.
Since 2014, a total of more than 350,000 unaccompanied migrants have been resettled in the U.S. This includes nearly 50,000 in Texas; 36,000 in Florida; 31,000 in New York; 21,000 in Maryland; 20,000 in Virginia; 19,000 in New Jersey; 13,000 in Georgia; 12,000 in North Carolina; 11,000 in Tennessee; 9,000 in Massachusetts; 9,000 in Louisiana; 6,000 in Alabama, and 5,600 in Pennsylvania.
In May of 2021, an airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee, received multiple planeloads of migrants late at night, based on video evidence, WRCB-TV discovered. A source told the outlet that “the operation started in Dallas, Texas, but moved to small airports recently to avoid attention.” The planes were met on the tarmac by buses owned by a firm called Coast-to-Coast.
“In the past, the company’s drivers have traveled to Mobile, Alabama, and Atlanta to transport children,” the outlet reported, citing a bus company employee. The city of Chattanooga has now established an “Office of New Americans” and is hiring a director to implement an “immigrant and refugee integration strategy through an equity lens.”
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), a ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, whose district includes the airport, was not told of the flights by the Biden administration. He learned about them from a constituent.
On May 27, just before midnight, a World Atlantic plane coming from Long Beach, California, landed in Knoxville, Tennessee, where it was met on the tarmac by two buses from a Cleveland-based company. Other children getting off the plane were “met by unidentified adults,” reported WGNTV, which captured the landing on video. The incident came a week after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) demanded that the Biden administration “secure the border and stop scattering children across the country.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told local media the White House was not working with other officials.
“Our office has received no information from the Biden Administration informing us of a mass transportation of migrants to Tennessee … It is absolutely unacceptable if the Biden Administration is facilitating a mass migration without any input or oversight from Tennesseans and the affected communities.”
There also may be a new addition to the U.S. fleet of migrant movers: a new Canadian airline called GlobalX or Global Crossing. On August 18, 2021, the company “received a call requesting [two] aircraft for Government missions under ‘State Aircraft’ designation” to assist in the airlift taking Afghans and U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan as the U.S. military abruptly departed.
“GlobalX flew four (4) flights into Kabul, evacuating approx. 1,000 people – and then flew 400 to Ramstein Air Base in Germany,” it said in an investor presentation.
That apparently led to more government work.
“As a result of our Afghanistan flying, more opportunities are being presented by the U.S. Government,” the presentation continued. Flight records show GlobalX flights to migrant hotspots such as Jacksonville. The company did not return a request for comment about whether the Afghan airlift had turned into more business flying migrants around the U.S. But Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents suspecting the airline of flying migrants for HHS.
Its cooperation with the U.S. government may have also paid other dividends for the upstart airline. On August 27, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted approval for the company to provide international flights as part of its business, a key step for any airline. It is “Normally a 60+ day process – GlobalX completed in 34 days,” the company told investors.
No charter, besides Avelo, or HHS responded to requests for information about migrant flights.
An ICE spokesperson, who asked not to be named, told The Daily Wire that ICE is not responsible for releasing or resettling unaccompanied minors into the interior of the U.S.
As for adults, “ICE contractors transport individuals released from ICE custody to regional airports or bus stations,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Additionally, ICE is coordinating with non-governmental organizations to ensure individuals have immediate needs such as temporary shelter upon their release, food and water, clothing, and transportation services to help mitigate strains placed on resources in the local community.”