American, Frontier, Southwest And United Airlines Refuse To Transport Immigrant Children Separated From Parents For Government
A passenger talks on the phone as American Airlines jets sit parked at their gates at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport on Jan. 25, 2016.(Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
American, Frontier, Southwest and United airlines each refused Wednesday to fly immigrant children separated from their parents for the federal government, as President Trump ordered a halt to separations as part of his “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented border crossings.
All four airlines said they had no evidence that they have transported children under the policy yet. But they each said the policy runs counter to their corporate goals of connecting people.
“Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said. “This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it.”
American also issued a statement that the separation policy is not aligned with the airline’s values.
“We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” the statement said. “We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so.”
Frontier stated its opposition to transporting immigrant children separated from their parents in a tweet.
“Frontier prides itself on being a family airline and we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families,” the airline said in the tweet. “At this time, we are not aware if Frontier has been used for this purpose.”
Tyler Houlton, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, called the decisions by American, United and Frontier airlines “unfortunate.”
“Despite being provided facts on this issue, these airlines clearly do not understand our immigration laws and the long-standing devastating loopholes that have caused the crisis at our southern border,” Houlton said. “Buckling to a false media narrative only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers.”
President Trump said Wednesday at a White House meeting with lawmakers that he hoped an executive order ending family separations at the border would be followed by legislation. He signed the order after the meeting that specifies immigrant families would be kept together to the extent that the law and funding allowed while criminal and immigration proceedings were conducted.
“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border, and border security will be equal if not greater than previously,” Trump said.
After Trump signed the order, Southwest issued a statement saying the airline did “not wish to have involvement in the process of separating children from their parents.”
“Therefore, we appeal to anyone making those types of travel decisions not to utilize Southwest Airlines,” the airline said.
Delta Air Lines issued a statement after the order was signed calling family separations “disheartening,” but without detailing the carrier’s position on transporting children separated from their parents.
“Recent reports of families being separated are disheartening and do not align with Delta’s core values,” the statement said. “We applaud the administration’s executive order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the U.S. border.”
JetBlue Airways didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, typically return illegal immigrants to their home countries, either by ground transportation or flights. ICE Air Operations deported hundreds of thousands of people through charter flights during the last decade. But the government also occasionally pays for commercial airlines to fly deportees home.
The airline statements followed a Facebook post claiming to be a story from a flight attendant who witnessed a group of children, all dressed in gray sweat suits, on a flight from Phoenix to Miami. The details of the potential flight are unverified, but the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a flight attendants union, said the post was authentic.
“We applaud the statements made by United and American,” the flight-attendants union said in a statement. “We expect this issue could continue to escalate and tensions rise when passengers or crew experience even the appearance onboard of children separated from their families. This can become a safety and security issue, which makes it all the more important that airlines provide as much information as possible to crews in order to ensure a safe working environment for Flight Attendants and passengers.”