by Ashleigh Dye
In September 2021, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) paid more than $15 million to private prison operator GEO Group for deportation flights to repatriate thousands of Haitian migrants. The contract covered 44 charter flights from Texas to Haiti over a two-week time period, followed by another 44 flights in the ensuing two weeks—a reasonable amount to spend on deporting around 15,000 Haitians, according to ICE. Yet the deal was made without full and open competition.
GEO Group operates several detention centers where migrants are detained for ICE. A subsidiary, GEO Transport, offers transportation by van for state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Another subsidiary, BI, provides ankle monitoring. One of the few things GEO Group didn’t do for ICE was fly planes—until now.
Deportation flights are conducted through ICE Air Operations under ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which coordinates flights from a private air charter firm—currently Classic Air Charter (CAC)—because ICE has no planes of its own.
CAC uses subcontractors, too, with iAero providing 95% of ICE Air flights in 2021. Due to increased flight volume, though, World Atlantic Airlines was brought in to help in August 2021. Yet with all this contracting and subcontracting, ICE still signed a hefty deal with GEO Group, which—like ICE itself—has no planes of its own to fly, relying on subcontractors.
The question is: Why?
As it turns out, CAC didn’t have capacity to handle ICE’s additional flights because its subcontractors—including iAero, World Atlantic, Global Crossings Airlines, and Eastern Airlines—had committed their excess capacity to Geo Group.
In reality, the only difference between the two firms is the airports each uses, with GEO Group using fields in Laredo and Harlingen, Texas.
The deal left Jesse Franzblau, policy analyst at The Intercept, scratching his head.
“To put it in comparison,” he tweeted, “the [United Nations] sought $15 million for relief in Haiti in August. Instead, the Biden [Administration] gave GEO Group $15 million for mass expulsion flights.”
Also shaking their heads were two Democratic U.S. Senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ). They said the Biden administration needs to implement a reintegration program for Haitians that the U.S. has deported as well as access to asylum procedures.
The controversy arrived as Ambassador Daniel Foote departed as U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti on September 23, 2021, in protest over repatriation of Haitians back to “a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.”
“I think the risk of changing governments in a country like Haiti makes us nervous to be honest with you,” added Ambassador Foote, in apparent reference to the Biden administration’s continuing support for Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has also been the country’s Acting President since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Henry is suspected to have played a role in that. Meanwhile the Biden administration insists on “not putting our thumbs on the scale” in the troubled country “but rather, being seen as supporting this broad dialogue.” Which given the centuries long history of the US invading, occupying Haiti and subverting or controlling its nominal governments is a rich statement indeed.
Pierre Esperance, the executive director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network said the U.S. “continues to bolster a Haitian regime that has dismantled democratic institutions and has not held elections, leaving only 11 elected Representatives in office in a country of 11 million people.”
Sources: The Hill, Popular Resistance, Sputnik News
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