immigration
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

Two Washington airports risk millions in funding if they don’t cooperate with ICE

Seattle’s Boeing Field and the Yakima Air Terminal have a choice: Let Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights land at the airport or risk future money from the government.

It started in April when King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an order to rid Boeing Field of ICE flights.

While Boeing Field does not have a contract with the agency, a ground operator at their airport had a contract with Swift Air, which had a contract with ICE to transport undocumented immigrants.

Earlier this month, that operator ended its relationship with Swift Air, effectively terminating ICE’s ability to move immigrants through the area.

Now those flights are landing at the Yakima Air Terminal in central Washington.

Cliff Moore, the Yakima city manager, has witnessed three of those flights. On Mother’s Day, he watched as 42 detainees were deplaned and walked onto buses.

Those buses drove the detainees to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Another 100 or so individuals arrived from the detention center and were walked onto the plane and flown south to El Paso for deportation proceedings.

Moore said Yakima is in a tough place.

“If we were to try to prevent this kind of operation, we’d be subject to a lawsuit from our operator and for federal sanctions as well.”

In a conversation with an ICE official, Moore learned that Yakima would be home to deportation flights for the foreseeable future.

Unlike other areas in Washington state, the city of Yakima does not have sanctuary policies. In fact, the Yakima County Department of Corrections has an Intergovernmental Service Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That means the jail houses immigrant detainees and is paid for that service.

Boeing Field is in its own bind.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent King County a letter warning officials to reconsider the order, saying that it is not in compliance with federal regulations.

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DOT Letter To King County Executive (5.01.2019)

In the letter, the feds point to grants that Boeing Field has received over the years — $21 million since 2012 . These funds helped the airport repair the runway and mitigate noise. But that grant funding came with strings, namely making the airport accessible to government aircraft.

If Boeing Field fails to comply and allow ICE use of the airport, it risks losing future funding.

A lawyer familiar with the situation said it’s possible it could escalate to a lawsuit.

Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration declined to add more.

King County officials did not offer comment.

The situation recalls the political standoff in 2017, when the feds ordered local police departments to cooperate with immigration officials or risk losing grant funding.