Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is hub for thousands of ICE deportations

Dec 16, 2022, 8:37 AM | Updated: 8:50 am
Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts iAero Airways to remove thousands of deported immigra...
Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts iAero Airways to remove thousands of deported immigrants from the country each year on flights out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. (KTAR News Photo/Jeremy Schnell)
(KTAR News Photo/Jeremy Schnell)

PHOENIX — Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is a major hub for flights that deport thousands of immigrants every year.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data obtained by KTAR News 92.3 FM shows that more than 160,000 immigrants were removed from the country out of the Mesa airport over the last decade.

Less than a third of those removed had criminal records.

An ICE spokesperson said the deportation decisions are based on U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security policy and are made “considering the individual merits and factors of each case.”

“ICE officers make associated decisions and apply prosecutorial discretion in a responsible manner, informed by their experience as law enforcement professionals and in a way that best protects against the greatest threats to the homeland,” the spokesperson told KTAR News in a statement earlier this month.

The deportations from Gateway Airport occur through a program called ICE Air Operations, which started in 2006.

Not only is Gateway one of five locations where ICE Air operates, it’s also where the program is based. The other locations are in Texas (San Antonio and Brownsville), Louisiana (Alexandria) and Florida (Miami).

ICE Air contracts iAero Airways, formerly known as Swift Air, to operate the flights out of Mesa.

At least 10,000 individuals were deported from Gateway each year from 2012 through 2019, when it peaked at 26,000. The number fell to around 12,000 in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and under 3,000 last year after President Joe Biden took office.

In addition to removing immigrants, ICE Air is responsible for transferring detained immigrants within the United States. In some cases, they are transferred to detention centers or to other states from where they’re deported.

About 73,600 immigrants were transferred through Gateway from 2012 to 2021.

Mexican nationals ordered deported travel on domestic flights from various U.S. cities to southern cities. Once there, they are bused to the U.S.-Mexico border to be removed at a port of entry.

Other foreign nationals ordered deported are flown from various U.S. cities to other destinations worldwide that operate ICE Air flights, including in Central and South America.

Special charter flights for high-risk removals are scheduled to countries or regions – such as Europe, Africa, and Asia – on an as-needed basis.

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Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is hub for thousands of ICE deportations