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caption: Photo courtesy of David Morales, Yakima Immigrant Response Network.
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Photo courtesy of David Morales, Yakima Immigrant Response Network.
Credit: David Morales

ICE flights continue in the Northwest despite coronavirus

Immigration advocates are calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to end deportation flights to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially as detainees in the Northwest get moved to Central and South America where the virus is still limited.

Danielle Surkatty counted 33 detainees boarding an ICE Flight at the Yakima Air Terminal.

"It was routine, I hate to say routine but it’s what happens here on a Tuesday morning here in Yakima," she says.

Surkatty is an immigration activist with the Yakima Immigrant Response Network. She’s been observing the flights since last May when they were moved from King County's Boeing Field to the Yakima airport after county officials effectively banned the flights.

Advocates have been pushing for ICE to shut down deportation flights for a while but more so now during a global pandemic.

In a statement, La Resistencia, an immigrant rights groups says, "ICE continues its unnecessary forced transportation of immigrants and migrants across the country and beyond the U.S. border, endangering the lives of detained people and potentially further spreading the coronavirus from the hardest-hit metropolitan area in North America."

So far, ICE has not indicated they intend to pause flights. On its website, the agency says it’s still detaining individuals but they are using different measures to keep both detainees and immigration agents safe. It's also screening detainees for a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher before they board.

For Surkatty though that's not enough, "People can have no symptoms and still be contagious, so taking a temperature is one thing but it's not preventing it," she says.

The agency says that, "As of March 17, 2020, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities."

In Tacoma however, the Northwest Detention Center has suspended family visits for the time being. The Seattle Executive Office for Immigration Review (where many immigrants have their removal proceedings) also closed Monday this week and will remain closed through April 10.

Mexico has so far not closed its borders to travel, although Canada and the U.S. have taken those measures. Guatemala made an attempt to limit deportation flights from the U.S. because of coronavirus but has since rescinded the move.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting non-essential international travel for much of the globe, especially for older adults and those with underlying illnesses.