With the surging number of people being apprehended at the southern border, immigration officials are using planes to transport migrants to facilities across the country for processing.
CBS National News Correspondent Omar Villafranca got an up-close look at some of Texas’ first flights, where buses packed with more than 40 men, women and children each carted migrants to the airport. The approximately 135 migrants boarding the plane don’t know where they’re going, but officials say they’re headed to a processing facility in Del Rio, Texas.
These flights, operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Border Patrol, are expected to become more regular as border numbers grow. On Friday, around 100 migrants were flown from the Rio Grande Valley to San Diego for processing.
But the flights come at a price, to the tune of around $20,000 to $60,000 each — or, as ICE told CBS News, the equivalent of about $9,000 per hour.
“The goal is to get these individuals into a safe and secure environment as quickly as possible,” said Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE. He claims that the flights are the most efficient way to transport migrants to less crowded facilities for faster processing, because the numbers at the border are “so overwhelming.”
Last month, Border Patrol apprehended 98,977 people, more than double the amount of people apprehended last April.
“We’re seeing a challenge that we’ve never seen before,” said Brian Hastings, the Border Patrol law enforcement operations chief, adding “If the family units were noncriminal, we began releasing them because we simply ran out of room.”
Some of those people are staying at a Catholic charities in the Rio Grande Valley, including Alex, a migrant from Guatemala. “People are hungry, there’s no jobs and it’s just culminating to a lot of numbers at the border,” he said.
And as the numbers continue to increase, so may the flights.
“It’s that bad of a crisis with those high of numbers,” Hastings said.
ICE told CBS News that these flights are rare, but not unprecedented. The Department of Homeland Security says there are currently around 16,000 people in Border Patrol custody, and that it is looking at all options to continue to detain them.
Once migrants reach a processing facility, ICE said, they’re generally processed for immigration proceedings. If they make a claim that they have a credible fear of returning to their home country, an interview with an asylum officer will be set up for a later date. They will then stay in the U.S. until their case has been processed.
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