The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretly carried out multiple chartered flights transporting illegal immigrants to Scranton, Pa. in the middle of the night throughout December. The receiving airport said the federal government threatened to pull its funding to the airport if it attempted to block the flights.
Rep. Dan Meuser told the Times Leader on Wednesday the HHS confirmed to him it had organized the flights of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children, which it said was necessitated by the migrant surge at the US-Mexico border.
Four illegal immigrant flights to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport took place on Dec. 11, 17 and 25. Three additional flights are scheduled for Dec. 30, Dec. 31, and Jan. 1.
“The agency attributed their increased use of charter flights to the increased volume of unaccompanied minors at the southern border,’ Meuser said. “This influx is the direct result of the Biden Administration’s deliberate failure to secure the border. Rescinding the Remain in Mexico Policy, ending Title 42 expulsions, and passing mass amnesty in the House of Representatives have encouraged record levels of illegal immigration. Along with more than 2 million illegal immigrants this year, Border Patrol has seized twice as much fentanyl as in 2020, and a record 112,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended this year.”
Each plane carried roughly 120 passengers, and after arrival, the illegal immigrants were transported via bus to unknown locations, including one that was reportedly sent to Brooklyn, New York.
The flights were thought to be organized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), however, the agency denied involvement.
“These are not our flights,” ICE spokeswoman Mary Houtmann told the Times-Tribune, adding that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement may have organized the transportation.
Rep. Meuser has called for “transparency” over the reported flights. Prior to his call with HHS confirming the agency was behind the flights, Meuser sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson arguing that the “lack of communication and transparency surrounding this process is unacceptable.”
“The mismanagement at the southern border has made its way to NEPA and my constituents and the Commonwealth deserve answers,” the congressman tweeted.
In his letter, Meuser noted that at least 130 illegal immigrants, including 118 minors and 12 adults, arrived in Scranton on a charter flight on Dec. 17 “and were subsequently transported on buses from a private hangar.”
“While the Biden administration has shown no concern for the lawlessness and chaos they have created at the border, the people of northeast Pennsylvania want nothing to do with it,” Meuser’s letter stated. “This administration’s decision to ‘catch and release’ illegal immigrants into communities is a threat to my constituents and entirely unacceptable. I am calling on you President Biden to immediately end this irresponsible practice in Northeast Pennsylvania and throughout the country.”
As politicians fight to stop the illegal immigrant flights from Congress, Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport’s attorney Donald J. Frederickson, Jr. said his office had reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration over the charters.
“Under FAA regulations we are not able to deny these flights landing rights at our airport. Doing so would jeopardize our FAA funding. The only way that we could cancel these flights would be based upon operational issues at the airport (i.e. staffing, fuel shortage etc.),” Frederickson wrote, as reported by the Times Leader.
James Gallagher, president of Aviation Technologies which handles chartered flights in and out of the airport, said most of the passengers on the chartered flights are children and teenagers. Most did not speak English, he noted, and interpreters traveled with the illegal immigrants as a result.
“These kids are traumatized,” Meuser said. “And then they are being placed on planes and taken who knows where.”
“We were told that HHS is doing its best to move these children into their sponsorships,” Meuser said. “I’m told they are primarily being bused to metropolitan areas. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make us feel better, but this lack of transparency is unacceptable.”