In September 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent two planes carrying dozens of Venezuelan migrants to the small Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard.
The flights were part of a $12 million Florida program to “transport unauthorized aliens out of the state.”
Criticism of DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has bused migrants from Texas to cities throughout the United States, has been countered with claims that President Joe Biden also transports migrants throughout the U.S.
In the weeks after the flights to Martha’s Vineyard, many VERIFY readers also sent the team questions about whether the Biden administration transports migrants to other states via plane or bus.
Does the federal government transport migrants to other U.S. states?
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
- Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council
Yes, the federal government transports migrants to other states. This has been government policy under the last four presidents and is not a new policy under the Biden administration.
WHAT WE FOUND
The federal government transports migrants around the country for various purposes, as required under federal law. This includes uniting unaccompanied children with their families or sponsors. Adult migrants are sometimes transported from one U.S. detention center to another, or between U.S. cities when immigration authorities order their deportation.
This has occurred under the last four presidents, not just Biden, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said.
“Whether it's an unaccompanied migrant child or an adult in ICE detention, the federal government is required to give that person certain process,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Now what that process may be is different in each individual case, but it often involves taking that person from one place to another.”
Federal law has provided protections for migrant children in the government’s custody for more than two decades.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a division with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is legally required to provide care for unaccompanied migrant children. This includes transportation to family members or vetted sponsors, or ORR facilities while they await immigration proceedings. The federal government facilitates this travel, including flights.
Most unaccompanied children are placed into ORR care after apprehension by immigration authorities while trying to cross the U.S. border, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), an operational division within HHS, says.
More from VERIFY: Yes, Florida paid for migrants in Texas to fly to Martha’s Vineyard
During a press briefing on Oct. 19, 2021, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the transportation of migrant children when a reporter asked why the Biden administration was “flying thousands of migrants from the border to Florida and New York in the middle of the night.”
This was Psaki’s response:
“It is our legal responsibility to safely care for unaccompanied children until they…can be swiftly unified with a parent or a vetted sponsor. And that’s something we take seriously; we have a moral…obligation to come to do that and deliver on that.
As part of the unification process, our office of Refugee Resettlement facilitates travel for children in its custody to their families or sponsors around the country. So, in recent weeks, unaccompanied children passed through the Westchester airport, which I think is what you’re referring to, en route to their final destination to be unified with their parents or a vetted sponsor.
“It’s no surprise that kids can be seen traveling through states, not just New York. It’s something that we’re also working to unite children with their family members or vetted sponsors in other parts of the country as well.”
Though the process isn’t the same for adult migrants, ICE Air Operations, the air transportation arms of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), also facilitates their transportation throughout the U.S. The agency says on its website that it has “transferred and/or removed” hundreds of thousands of people “using air charter services” since 2006.
ICE often flies adults in its custody from one detention center to another to avoid overcrowding or to fulfill contract minimums, Reichlin-Melnick said.
Mexican nationals who are ordered to be deported from the United States travel on commercial flights from U.S. cities to southern cities such as San Diego, California, and Brownsville, Texas, ICE says. They are then bused to the U.S.-Mexico border for removal at a land port of entry.
Other foreign nationals who are ordered to be deported are flown out of the country to destinations worldwide, according to ICE.
Some people have claimed the Biden administration is trying to “secretly” transport migrants throughout the country because some flights have arrived late at night or in the early morning hours. Reichlin-Melnick says the timing isn’t “nefarious.”
He explained the federal government is looking to save money and hires contractors who often find that the cheapest times to run these flights are late at night.
“The federal government actually has very little to do with the timing of these flights, which are often set by the contractor who's actually operating the planes,” Reichlin-Melnick said.