US steals migrants captured from Canada-Texas border as part of deterrent effort
U.S. authorities transported migrants caught illegally crossing the Canada-U.S. border into Texas as part of a deterrence effort to combat an increase in railroad crossings, authorities say, records from theft and a Reuters witness.
The US Border Patrol quietly transported around 100 migrants this month on two charter flights from Plattsburgh, New York, near the border with Canada, to the Texas towns of Harlingen and El Paso.
Southbound flights from the northern border are a break from past practice as the United States faces a sharp increase in the number of migrants crossing illegally from Canada, current and former officials told Reuters.
At the same time, asylum seekers crossed from the United States to Canada in record numbers, straining resources. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to address migration issues with US President Joe Biden during meetings in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday.
The US Border Patrol apprehended nearly 2,900 people crossing illegally from Canada into the United States in the five months since October, more than all of fiscal year 2022. About half of them were Mexicans, who do not need a visa to come to Canada.
Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of Border Patrol, said he did not recall the agency using charter flights for surprised migrants crossing Canada.
“The whole northern border issue was not on the radar as much,” he said.
A CBP official told Reuters that 48 migrants – 47 Mexicans and one Colombian – were flown from Plattsburgh to Harlingen on March 13 for repatriation, calling it “a consequence of an illegal crossing”.
CBP has not commented on a second flight from Plattsburgh to El Paso on March 21. A Reuters witness saw around 50 migrants disembark from the plane, including men and women in chains and three adults with a child and a baby.
CBP declined to say whether the migrants were deported to Mexico under COVID-19 border restrictions known as Title 42. The restrictions are set to end May 11 with the COVID-19 public health emergency, but the Biden administration expanded their reach earlier this year to deter passers-by.
Reuters learned of the flights from Thomas Cartwright, a lawyer with the group Witness at the Border which tracks US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charter flights, which have been used to move migrants.
Cartwright said that given the relatively high cost of the thefts, it appeared they were intended “for deterrence and to send a message”.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union of officers, said he had been told plans for a third flight next week were now uncertain due to cost concerns.
Regardless, Judd said the vast majority of migrants captured at the northern border are released pending appearance in US immigration court.
“That’s what drove more and more people to go to the northern border to enter the United States,” he said.