Several major airlines have asked the government to stop using their flights to transport children who have been separated from their families under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy.
The airline said it “requested the federal government to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy.”
“We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” the airline added.
One American Airlines crew member, Ian Funderberg, said he saw eight boys he believed had been separated from their families on a flight from Dallas to Miami. He sent a letter to an airline executive objecting to transporting the immigrant children and posted it on Facebook.
“Their situation weighed on me the entire flight, playing multiple scenarios in my head, and it broke my heart,” Funderberg wrote. “Knowing that I was transporting innocent children to their detention and possible deportation goes against every moral fiber in my body.”
Someone else posted a description of 16 children who were “dressed as criminals” and did not speak English aboard a red-eye flight from Arizona to Miami. It mentioned that one of the children was about six years old.
“She looked up at me as she turned left for the main cabin door, with tears of fear streaming down her face,” the post read.
Knowing that I was transporting innocent children to their detention and possible deportation goes against every moral fiber in my body.American Airlines crew member Ian Funderberg
Like several other airlines, American Airlines holds contracts with the federal government to provide transport, but the airline does not receive information about the nature of the travel or the passengers, according to the company statement.
United Airlines and Frontier also contacted the federal government about its immigration policy.
“Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents,” United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement.
Munoz added that the airline has “not seen evidence these children have been flown on United aircraft.”
Frontier said it was not aware that its flights had been used to transport separated children, but would “not knowingly allow” its flights to help enforce the policy.
Southwest also said that it does “not wish to have involvement in the process of separating children from their parents.”
Spirit said it does not have any federal contracts, and its policy says that “Spirit Airlines will not transport prisoners in the custody of law enforcement under any circumstances with or without restraints.”
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman called the airlines’ decisions “unfortunate.”
“Despite being provided facts on this issue, these airlines clearly do not understand our immigration laws and the long-standing devastating loopholes that have caused the crisis at our southern border,” DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton wrote. “Buckling to a false media narrative only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers. We wish the airlines would instead choose to be part of the solution.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that the U.S. would separate children from their parents when families crossed the border illegally, but the strict policy has come under increasing scrutiny. Facing pressure to end the practice, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to stop the family separations through a massive expansion of detention of kids and parents.
Delta and Spirit issued statements regarding the issue after Trump’s executive order on family separation.
“Recent reports of families being separated are disheartening and do not align with Delta’s core values,” Delta wrote in a statement. “We applaud the Administration’s Executive Order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the U.S. border.”
Spirit also said that the company would not comply in transporting immigrant children who had been separated from their families.
“We will not knowingly participate in transporting immigrant children away from their parents and families,” Spirit said.
The article has been updated with a comment from Southwest, Spirit and Delta.