ICE Has Brought Nearly 700 Americans Back Home on Returning Deportation Flights Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

The Trump administration has used returning deportation flights facilitated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to bring nearly 700 Americans back home from Central American countries.

On Thursday, ICE spokesperson Mary Houtmann told Newsweek that the agency has repatriated 695 U.S. citizens since March 22, when ICE first started bringing stranded Americans back to the U.S. on deportation flights in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Houtmann said the agency has also overseen the return of 34 lawful permanent residents to the U.S. using flights intended to deport migrants back to Central American countries. In total, 729 people have been returned on ICE flights.

The majority of U.S. citizens and permanent residents brought back on returning deportation flights have been returned from Honduras and El Salvador, Houtmann said, with 373 people flying back to the U.S. on ICE flights from Honduras and 322 from El Salvador.

Meanwhile, 18 people have been returned from Nicaragua on ICE deportation flights, while 16 have been flown back from Colombia.

Last month, ICE began working with the State Department to start returning stranded Americans and permanent residents back to the U.S. in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Those returning to the U.S. on ICE Air flights have taken up the Space Available, or "Space A" seats, according to the agency.

"Space A" travel typically applies to when members of the U.S. Uniformed Services and their family members travel on aircraft being used by the Department of Defense, when it is possible.

In this situation, however, returning U.S. citizens and residents have been allowed to take up "Space A" seats.

On April 1, ICE brought a total of 69 citizens and permanent residents back to the U.S. from Honduras and Nicaragua after removing Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals with final orders of removal from the U.S.

Deportation flight
Guatemalans walk off a plane during the arrival of a flight coming from Mesa, Arizona with deported Guatemalan Citizens at La Aurora International Airport on August 23, 2019 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Josue Decavele/Getty

Prior to boarding ICE air flights, ICE has said that detainees are being screened for a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees, as well as for other symptoms of COVID-19, including coughing.

The agency has said that detainees with symptoms are immediately referred to a medical provider for further evaluation and observation.

While the agency is taking measures to screen people boarding its ICE Air flights, coronavirus symptoms can take days to present themselves.

Last week, a Guatemalan man who was deported from the U.S. tested positive for coronavirus days after being deported from the U.S. back to his home country.

While the man had not shown symptoms of the virus upon boarding the deportation flight or upon arrival in Guatemala, it is possible that the symptoms had simply not appeared yet.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

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