ICE flight

A charter flight from Phoenix, operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, lands at Boeing Field in Seattle.

Yakima has become a regular stop of ICE flights for now, City Manager Cliff Moore said Friday.

Moore said acting field operations director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Bryan Wilcox — recently confirmed that the Yakima airport will continue to be used as a landing site to drop off and pick up detained undocumented immigrants.

Just how often those flights will land here is unclear as the ICE director wouldn’t divulge much information, Moore said.

“He said they may be coming again as early as Sunday,” Moore said. “He said that was a possibility, but he wouldn’t commit to disclosing the frequency or any schedule.”

On Tuesday, a private plane under contract with ICE landed in Yakima, dropped off 42 undocumented immigrants and picked up 92 detainees.

Those dropped off were bused to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and those picked up were from Tacoma.

Yakima became a landing pad for ICE flights in the wake of King County’s decision to stop service to such flights at Boeing Field in Seattle.

ICE said it will depend on Yakima while it works to normalize relations with King County, Moore said.

King County officials recently took a hard stance against allowing local resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws. King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an order in April directing officials at Boeing Field to negotiate new leases with fixed base operators that would halt them from servicing ICE flights. The county could not forbid ICE flights from using Boeing Field on its own because of federal airport requirements, The Seattle Times reported.

Having such flights land in Yakima will have a “chilling effect” on the migrant community here that could impact airport business, said Alfredo Gonzalez Benitez, attorney with Columbia Legal Services.

“We have a large migrant population using the airport,” he said. “Our community is afraid of using the airport and the airport is going to lose business from our large migrant population.”

Benitez’s legal firm has launched successful legal battles over immigrant rights. The firm recently prevailed in challenging the way Yakima County was turning over local inmates to ICE while they remained in custody. In a settlement, the county jail agreed to end the practice.

Crime

Responding to inquiries about the flights, ICE officials released a statement highlighting 10 high-profile criminal cases — including murderers to human traffickers — as the reason for local authorities and airports to cooperate with ICE in an effort to keep communities safe.

“ICE will fully utilize its nationwide assets to ensure mission accomplishment. State and local efforts thwarting ICE operations serve only to create additional security concerns and add significant delay and costs to U.S. taxpayers,” Wilcox said in the statement.

Those cases reached back to November 2014, and involved undocumented immigrants detained in the state of Washington.

Between October 2014 and June 2018, there were 7,139 undocumented immigrants detained by ICE statewide, according to TRAC Immigration, a national database that tracks detainments and deportations. Of those, 2,660 had committed an aggravated felony, with 736 found guilty of some other felony.

In Yakima County, 1,198 undocumented immigrants were detained over the same period. Of them, 346 had committed an aggravated felony and 113 were guilty of some other felony, according to TRAC.

Obligation

The Yakima airport is owned by the city but has a contract with McCormick Air Center to service flights.

City Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez earlier in the week called the development “alarming.”

“One of our hopes is that the City Council values the safety and business of our migrant community,” Benitez said. “We’re really concerned for the safety of our community. We’re keeping our eyes on it.”

Moore said ICE promised the use of the airport wouldn’t lead to an increase of ICE patrols or enforcement in the Yakima area.

The city has benefited from roughly $18 million in federal grants over the past several years for airport improvement — money the city could run the risk of returning if they deny the flights, Moore said.

King County may be at risk now, Moore said.

The city’s contract with McCormick has a non-discrimination clause as well, making it more difficult for the city to ban such flights.

“Right now, regardless of how we may feel about it, I personally I believe we are contractually obligated to allow these flights to occur,” Moore said.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito