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US Deports Illegal Immigrants On Expensive, Inefficient Charter Flights

The U.S. immigration agency  is likely wasting tens of millions of dollars transporting and deporting illegal immigrants on expensive charter flights, a recent Inspector General report found.

If the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Air Operations operated more efficiently, it might have saved taxpayers $41.1 million from October 2010 to March 2014, the Department of Homeland Security IG found.

ICE AIR is tasked with relocating illegal immigrants within the U.S. and back to their country of origin, and spent about half of its $1 billion budget providing expensive charter flights — often below capacity — for hundreds of thousands of detainees over the three-and-a-half year review period. (RELATED: State Department To Fly Central American Children Into US)

Thirty-seven percent of the 135-seat flights operated at less than 80 percent capacity, the review found. Each flight costs $8,419 per flight hour, regardless of the number of passengers, and if ICE AIR had simply filled all the seats on every flight it could have saved an estimated $41.1 million.

Aside from sending detainees on empty planes, ICE Air is understaffed and its employees undertrained, so the entire process is apparently inefficient. In a chart titled “Questionable Detainee Transfers,” the report highlights several reported flights where the detainee travels back and forth repeatedly to the same destinations.

(Photo: OIG Analysis of ICE data)

More than 20,000 detainees were listed as “picked up” or “dropped off” at locations that don’t exist on the charter flight route. Fifty-four detainees somehow made it to Nicaragua on a charter flight that only included stops in Louisiana, Texas and Guatemala.

Employees are not adequately trained or given consistent policies to adhere to when scheduling flights, the report found. One employee hired to generate reports and provide statistical data for public inquiries had “no prior experience” as a data analyst or information technology specialist.

ICE AIR “has not conducted a comprehensive analysis of current operations for making informed business decisions that will safeguard the program’s [taxpayers] resources,” the report said.

The data fields used to record basic information about the detainees, such as their gender or criminal status, are open-ended and often had illogical entries. The field ‘sex,’ was filled in with entries such as “0,” “30,” or “none.” The field “criminality” was blank for more than 20,000 detainees, and had illogical entries such as “#Ref!”

Although every detainee is supposed to be fingerprinted, one in five lacked a fingerprint identification number on their report.

That lack of useful data makes the extent of ICE AIR’s inefficiency unclear, since it can’t be determined whether resources were wasted or if circumstances warranted the cost.

The agency has to provide special charter flights to remove detainees with serious medical conditions or high profile detainees or non-compliant detainees. And whether other detainees are sent on a commercial or charter flight is determined by their citizenship, criminal status and family status.

Some countries refuse to accept more than a given number of detainees at a time, or have restrictions on the timing and frequency of flights. El Salvador, for example, only accepts 120 detainees at a time.

ICE AIR defended its practices after viewing the report, saying delaying detainees in order to fill a given flight could end up costing more than the empty seat.

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