A bus to the Mexican border should suffice.
Shackled at their ankles and wrists and their shoelaces removed, a long line of men and women waited on the tarmac as a team of officers patted them down and checked inside their mouths for anything hidden.
Then one by one, they climbed a mobile staircase and onto a charter plane the size of a commercial aircraft.
This was a deportation flight run by ICE Air. The chains would be removed and the shoelaces returned when the plane landed in El Salvador.
An obscure division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates hundreds of flights each year to remove immigrants. Deportation flights are big business: The U.S. government has spent approximately $1 billion on them in the last decade, and the Trump administration is seeking to raise ICE’s budget for charter flights by 30 percent.
ICE Air Operations transports detained immigrants between American cities and, for those with final removal orders, back to their home countries. About 100,000 people a year are deported on such flights.
While Mexican immigrants are generally flown to southern U.S. cities and then driven to the border so they can cross over, Central Americans have to be transported by air. And the large numbers of Mexicans who used to cross the border have largely been replaced by migrants from three impoverished Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
According to flight-tracking data, deportation flights to Guatemala and Honduras have sharply increased this year. And ICE’s budget request for charter flights increased 30 percent last year compared to the year before.
The agency estimated last year that it spends about $7,785 per hour on the flights.