Federal immigration authorities have used King County’s Boeing Field to deport roughly 34,400 people over the past eight years, a practice which the county hopes to end.
County officials gathered at the King County International Airport just south of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood on April 23 for a press conference announcing their intention to limit Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) access to county-owned facilities. Airport director John Parrott said he was given a mandate by King County Executive Dow Constantine to uphold the county’s policy of refusing to work with ICE.
When the airport was deeded to the county from the federal government in the 1940s, it came with stipulations that it provide service for federal agencies. However, ICE has established a practice of using private contractors for its flights and not government aircraft. The county worked with the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights over the past eight months and released a report on April 23 about the practice.
The report was created through reviewing more than 1.7 million documents obtained by UW from the Alien Reparation Tracking Service database between 2010 and 2018. The report stated around 34,400 people had been deported through Boeing Field on 466 flights in an eight-year period.
The highest level of deportations was recorded in 2011, with around 544 people per month, according to the report. This dropped to a low of 238 in 2015 with an average of roughly 360 people pushed through the airport every month. However, the report noted that under the Trump administration, the numbers were beginning to trend upward, but still had not reached levels seen under the Obama administration.
The report found the majority of flights from Boeing Field are destined for Arizona and Texas, where deportees can be placed on international flights or bused across the border to Mexico. Of the total number deported, at least 2,615 were deported from King County without a chance to see an immigration judge through expedited removal or similar processes.
The majority of the planes ICE uses are from Swift Air, a subcontractor of Classic Air Charter, which has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security. They have a fleet of Boeing 737s, which in addition to facilitating nationwide deportations, also provides transportation for musicians, sports teams and business executives, the report said.
Parrott said the airport will install cameras to better monitor ICE activities as well as potentially limiting services that it provides, such as use of its facilities or staff. However, many of these conditions are already negotiated under leases that won’t expire for decades. This means that if ICE is under one of these contracts, and doesn’t renegotiate its terms, the existing contracts could be in place well into the future. County representatives said on April 23 that they expect legal challenges from the federal government over their new policy.
The UW paper argued that under federal aviation guidelines, airports are not obligated to provide service for operators who “introduce equipment, personnel, or practices on the airport that would be unsafe, unsightly, or detrimental to the public welfare.”
Additionally, the paper argues the county could cite an executive order barring programs that adversely impact minority and low-income populations.
“If the county is interested in upholding its federal obligations, it should investigate and stop deportations happening at its airfield, given their ‘disproportionately high and adverse’ impact on people of color,” the paper said.