Will the Yakima airport become a regular stop for ICE?
City officials couldn’t say Wednesday, a day after a private plane dropped off and picked up undocumented immigrants at the Yakima airport.
Those flown in, about 42, were bused to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma before 92 detainees from Tacoma boarded the plane, said City Manager Cliff Moore.
The landing comes after King County officials moved to stop allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights at the international airport known as Boeing Field.
Moore said the private charter airline — Swift Air of Phoenix — provided the city proper notice of the landing, but didn’t say whether such landings here would become routine.
Swift Air often provides flights for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Moore said he’s yet to get an answer from ICE officials.
“I did have a conversation with the ICE agent in charge and asked if ICE was planning future flights into-out of Yakima and he said he didn’t know,” Moore said in an email. “He took my business card and said he would have his superior call me. I have not heard from that person yet, but when I do I will ask the question again.”
ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman provided a brief statement regarding the flight to Yakima without addressing whether such flights would become routine.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has available, and has utilized, a variety of transportation options to achieve its mission requirements,” the statement said.
Later she provided a news release saying ICE relies on cooperation of local airports and airlines to “expeditiously remove dangerous criminals from our communities.”
The news release highlighted 10 serious offenders — ranging from murderers to human traffickers — who were removed from the state of Washington since May 2014.
“ICE removes thousands of aliens each year via domestic airports and does so humanely and in full compliance with domestic law and U.S. treaty obligations. Despite state and local efforts to interfere, ICE will carry out its mission to enforce U.S. immigration laws,” the release said.
Teresa Hart, operations manager at McCormic Air Center, which services flights at the Yakima airfield, said there wasn’t any arrangement with ICE.
She declined to say whether the Yakima airfield would serve as a landing or pickup for ICE in the future.
“In general, as a private aviation, we don’t comment on customers,” she said.
The Yakima County jail has a federal contract with ICE to detain undocumented immigrants temporarily until they are taken to the detention center in Tacoma.
Ed Campbell, corrections director for Yakima County, said he wasn’t aware of the flight or any arrangements involving future transportation of undocumented immigrants.
Campbell said he didn’t know if those being flown in would be housed temporarily at the county jail in the future.
“It’s not anything they’ve communicated to us at this point,” he said.
The flight to Yakima matches previous ICE patterns involving King County, said Phil Neff with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights.
“We don’t have any specific information confirming that this will be routine, but just based on what we’re seeing it appears will be routine,” he said.
His center began probing similar flights in Washington after learning of ICE flights in King County, where officials said local resources wouldn’t be used to enforce federal immigration laws.
Previously, Swift Air chartered such flights every Tuesday from Phoenix to King County International, then on to El Paso International and returning to Phoenix.
The recent flight left Phoenix, landed in Yakima and flew to El Paso before returning to Phoenix, according to its flight record.
“What we know so far is that it was the same itinerary as before that was going to Boeing Field,” he said. “It’s like a triangle route that they do once a week, usually Tuesday. Same plane, same airline.”