ICE flights move to Yakima after being frozen out of Boeing Field

Detainees loaded onto a Swift Air charter flight at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) in Seattle, WA for an ICE Air flight under callsign RPN 529. (Still image from video by Alex Montalvo and Wadii Boughdir for University of Washington Center for Human Rights)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will use Yakima Air Terminal for deportation flights after the federal agency was blocked from using King County-owned Boeing Field, The Yakima Herald and other news organizations reported last week.

ICE contractors deported 34,000 people through Boeing Field, officially known as King County International Airport, between 2011 and 2018, according to a report released last month.

Yakima City Manager Cliff Moore told the newspaper that he believed the city was contractually obligated to allow ICE to operate the deportation flights.

According to the newspaper, an ICE-contracted Swift Air flight landed at the Yakima Air Terminal recently and both dropped off and picked up detainees. The detainees were bused to and from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma — a drive of more than two and a half hours.

It is unclear how often ICE flights from Yakima will occur, Moore said.

“[ICE Acting Field Operations Director Bryan Wilcox] said they may be coming again as early as Sunday,” Moore told the Herald. “He said that was a possibility, but he wouldn’t commit to disclosing the frequency or any schedule.”

Moore also told the newspaper that ICE plans to use Yakima’s airport, also called McAllister Field, until the agency can return to King County’s airport.

Alfredo Gonzalez Benitez, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, criticized ICE’s move to Yakima’s airport.

“We have a large migrant population using the airport,” he told the Herald. “Our community is afraid of using the airport and the airport is going to lose business from our large migrant population.”

ICE previously used the terminal in 2016. Moore added that ICE’s use of Yakima Air Terminal would not increase immigration patrol in the area.

Boeing Field’s airport operator Modern Aviation stopped serving the Swift Air flights carrying detainees last week. This follows an order from King County Executive Dow Constantine that amended the county’s lease practices to air carriers in an effort to block flights from King County. The order included policies that forbade anyone from assisting with immigration-enforcement directives unless under court order.

“We do not want to see our publicly owned airport used for the wholesale deportation of immigrant detainees, and I applaud Modern Aviation for its civic-mindedness,” Constantine said in a statement.