SEATTLE - A court order is allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to once again fly detainees in and out of a county-owned Seattle airport.
In 2019, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an executive order that generally prohibited deportation flights at King County International Airport, more commonly known as Boeing Field. In announcing the policy change, Constantine said the county didn't want to see the publicly owned airport used for the wholesale deportation of immigrant detainees.
SEATAC, WA - (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
Immigration officials were then forced to transport detainees to and from the Yakima airport via bus, which placed the detainees and ICE agents at risk, federal officials said at the time. Yakima is about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.
The federal government sued King County over the deportation flight ban and because of the court order, deportation flights resumed this month, KNKX reported on Wednesday.
The order, issued earlier this year, says King County’s decision to not allow deportation flights to land at Boeing Field "discriminates against the federal government because other users of the airport are not subject to the limitations found in the Executive Order."
Three deportation flights have occurred this month, but the number of immigrants on the flights out of Boeing Field isn't clear. King County officials said ICE is requiring that they submit a Freedom of Information Act request to get those details.
King County officials said they will update the airport’s webpage each month on the 15th, starting this month, with information that is available about the deportation flights.
"King County remains dedicated to safeguarding the public’s right to total transparency regarding any federal actions at our airport that violate our values," Constantine said in a statement. "We will continue our longstanding commitment to creating a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people."
Constantine first pledged to shut down ICE air flights in 2018. A report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights in 2019 revealed that 34,400 detainees had been deported from Boeing Field in the previous eight years.
In a statement, David Yost, an ICE spokesperson, said as of May 8, more than 500 people were detained at the privately run, for-profit Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma.
The agency also said it's "committed to ensuring that all those in the agency’s custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments under appropriate conditions of confinement."
"Detained noncitizens in transit from one facility to another institution or jurisdiction will be transported in a safe and humane manner under the supervision of trained and experienced personnel," Yost said.
John Parrott, Boeing Field’s director, said the county is allowing activists opposed to ICE’s deportation and detention system to partially observe the flights.
"We are using the airport’s video system to provide a live view of a portion of the ramp," Parrott told KNKX.
Activists said they are unable to see those detained from the airport’s observation room. Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist with the group La Resistencia, said more transparency is needed so her group can provide support to immigrants.
"We need them to know that there’s a group that is supporting them, that is fighting to end detentions and deportations. That is the most critical part of our work. And when the county claims that there’s transparency, and they’re collaborating and partnering with us, it doesn’t seem like it," she said.