Over 1,000 Americans Rescued By ICE Deportation Flights

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts to fly home Americans stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic reached a milestone: more than 1,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been rescued so far.

As governments around the globe usher in sweeping lockdown orders, and airline companies are forced to cancel international flights, many Americans living abroad have found themselves stranded in foreign lands as COVID-19 continues to grip the world. The State Department has devoted its resources to rescuing thousands of U.S. citizens — with a big help from ICE’s transportation arm.

The agency announced Friday that its ICE Air Operations has flown 1,037 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents back to the U.S. since the coronavirus crisis began.

“The unprecedented global challenge resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic affected a great number of Americans abroad. Many Americans found themselves stranded outside of the United States with very limited options available to return,” ICE acting Director Matthew Albence said in a prepared statement.

An illegal immigrant boards a plane at a flight operation unit at Mesa airport during his deportation process in Phoenix

Juan Sacaria Lopez, an illegal immigrant, boards a plane at a flight operation unit at Mesa airport during his deportation process in Phoenix, Arizona July 10, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

“As an agency devoted to the safety of the American public, it is an honor to be part of the solution. I am grateful for the men and women of ICE who continue to work closely with our partners to bring our citizens home,” Albence continued.

The agency’s deportation flights are what’s being utilized for these rescue missions. After an ICE Air flight lands in a country — repatriating aliens who have been ordered removed from the U.S. — American citizens and legal permanent residents (LPR) are able to occupy available seats on the plane’s return leg back.

Since March 22, ICE Air has conducted over a dozen flights that included Americans and LPRs on the return leg home. These flights have so far rescued individuals stuck in El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua.

The agency has been able to facilitate these missions by coordinating with the State Department. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the White House on Wednesday, said the State Department has so far repatriated more than 50,000 U.S. citizens around the world. (RELATED: State Department Raises Travel Alert, Urges Americans To Avoid International Travel)

ICE said it will continue these rescue missions, and has left the door open to expanding its operations.

“ICE will continue to work with the State Department to facilitate the safe return of U.S. citizens on future removal flight returns from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said Friday.

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