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Illegal immigrants? What’s really going on at AEX?

Alexandria Staging Facility conducts deportations for ICE
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 7:04 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 8:16 AM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - We’ve had several questions in the last week about a report on July 20 from Fox News host Tucker Carlson and what he’s implying is happening at Alexandria International Airport.

Previously, on July 14, Carlson claimed that Laughlin Airforce Base in Texas was being used to transfer non-citizens, saying the U.S. military is being used to secretly move illegal immigrants around the country. Carlson refers to an email, which he shows on the screen, from a Lt. Col. Matthew Burrows to his staff, which states:

“In coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Del Rio Border Patrol will be using the Laughlin AFB runway to transport undocumented non-citizens via a Boeing 7-37.”

A week later, in his July 20 show, Carlson tracks the movement of these non-citizens from Laughlin Airforce Base to AEX, asking:

“Do the people who live there know? Where did it go from there? Where do all the people on the plane go?”

AEX operates next to the Alexandria Staging Facility, operated by ICE as a 72-hour holding facility prior to deportation. AEX has an agreement with ICE to have chartered planes enter and exit its runway.

“The Alexandria Staging Facility sits at Alexandria International,” said Sandra McQuain, executive director of AEX. “It’s on the flight line. And yes, the operations take place here at the airport.”

Like Laughlin Airforce Base, which also allows chartered planes to use its runways, England Airpark, where AEX is located, is host to a military airbase, as well.

Additionally, other chartered planes also have agreements to use the runways at AEX. The planes used by the Alexandria Staging Facility are Boeing 737s, owned by IAero Airways, also known as Swift Air, who holds a government contract with ICE to continue these deportations.

According to Flight Radar, there are five flights that left Laughlin Airforce Base and arrived in Alexandria in the past month – two of which took place July 13 and 14, within the date range Carlson referred to.

Those flights arriving at the Alexandria Staging Facility are transporting non-citizens, but they are not being dropped off in Central Louisiana to roam free. They’re actually just hours away from deportation.

The staging facility has been in Alexandria since August 29, 2013, and its operations have not changed, with about 4-10 planes flying in and out every day.

“They’re taking people out of the country,” said Senator Bill Cassidy. “They’re part of the solution, if you will. But not taking people illegally into the Air Force, into the airbase. So I can’t speak about any smuggling ring that Tucker is alluding to.”

Cassidy also spoke about what the director of ICE had to say about the situation that recently occurred in Shreveport where more than 70 detainees were released at a Greyhound bus station.

“He said, indeed this practice has been going on for some time in the cities of Louisiana, Alexandria included, said Cassidy. “Typically three to four people would be dropped off, and then they would just have transportation already arranged, and they would just use that as the beginning point of a journey to take them out elsewhere. The people being released are illegal, but they’re claiming asylum. And until their case is heard in court, they stay in the U.S.”

According to ICE policy and Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention (LAID), these asylees must hold the necessary identification for transit.

“They do have documents from ICE,” said Frances Kelley, a LAID representative. “ICE is supposed to be releasing them with documents to fly with. In most cases, they do have those documents. They’re different than a passport or a driver’s license. But they are documents that are approved by ICE and TSA for them to be able to fly and that give them identification.”

On July 16, LAID filed a civil rights complaint claiming ICE had violated Performance-Based National Detention Standards in all Louisiana facilities, failing to follow the expectations under the ‘2.1 Admissions and Release’ section. According to the complaint, those failures include notification of release, providing contact with family and free transportation to a transit facility, among others.

Congressman Mike Johnson of District 4 expressed his frustrations with the immigration system and the release of those claiming asylum, calling it unsustainable.

“This is a completely unsustainable situation,” said Johnson. “These are finite resources, and they’ve already run out. We have a $28 trillion federal debt. And, so this is just not a crisis that can be maintained for much longer.”

Johnson also called President Joe Biden’s “Catch and Release” policy a violation of the law, referencing immigration in south Texas.

“They’re not even issuing court notices to most of the people flooding over the border in south Texas right now because they don’t have the resources to do so,” said Johnson. “So, they’re literally catching people coming across the border illegally and releasing them immediately into the country, with no expectation whatsoever that their cases will be adjudicated. That is a fact, and that is a violation of the law.”

News Channel 5 reached out to ICE for a statement on July 21, but, so far, we have not received a response.

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