Several major airlines have a message for the federal government: Don't use us to transport children who have been separated from their parents at the border.
American Airlines, which has a major hub in Miami, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon after reports circulated on Facebook that the airline may have been involved in transporting 16 minors from Phoenix to Miami after the children were separated from their parents. The June 15 Facebook post spoke to the swirling controversy regarding the U.S.'s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border and placing them in separate detention centers, including a facility in Homestead. Late Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reverse the separation policy.
But prior to the change, a Facebook post, which referenced the alleged experience of a flight attendant, stated that 16 children between the ages of 11 and 6 boarded a red-eye flight from Phoenix to Miami last week wearing "black and gray cheap Walmart sweat suits." The children didn't appear to speak English.
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"At 2:30 in the morning, deplaned here in Miami not knowing if they will ever see their loved ones again that they were separated from in Phoenix," the post alleged. Due to flight schedules out of Phoenix, the Arizona Republic reported that the airline transporting the children was likely American Airlines. But over the weekend, readers started to poke holes in the story, noting that a flight from Phoenix to Miami could not have landed at 2:30 a.m. in Miami because of the time change and other factors.
Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, confirmed the Facebook post was legitimate, but did not confirm the details alleged and declined to state what airline was involved.
On Wednesday, American issued a statement saying the separation policy "is not at all aligned with the values of American Airlines." While the airline and U.S. carriers provide travel to the federal government through contracts, the government does not provide the airlines with information on the nature of the flights or the passengers who are traveling.
"We have no knowledge that the federal government has used American to transport children who have been separated from their parents due to the recent immigration policy, but we would be extremely disappointed to learn that is the case," American said in a statement.
It went on to request that the government "immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families," the airline said. "We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it. We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so."
Earlier Wednesday, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz also issued a statement, saying that based on United's own research, the airline had found no evidence that immigrant children separated from their parents had been transported by a United plane.
“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.," Munoz said. "Our company’s mission is to connect people and unite the world. This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it.”
Frontier Airlines also said it was not aware of its flights being used by the government to enforce the separation policy, and it would "not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families."
Tyler Houlton, press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, expressed disappointment Wednesday via a series of tweets about the airlines' decisions regarding the controversial immigration policy.
"It’s unfortunate that @AmericanAir , @united, and @FlyFrontier no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the traveling public, combat human trafficking, and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families," Houlton tweeted, though the airlines' requests were solely directed at the separation policy and did not address other aspects of their collaboration with the federal government.
He claimed the airlines were "buckling to a false media narrative" in issuing their decisions.
"We wish the airlines would instead choose to be part of the solution," he said.
Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines joined the other airlines in issuing statements following the signing of the executive order. Delta said the the separation policy did not align with its core values.
"We applaud the Administration’s Executive Order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the U.S. border,” Delta said.
Southwest added that it did not want be involved in taking immigrant children from their parents.
"Therefore, we appeal to anyone making those types of travel decisions not to utilize Southwest Airlines," the airline said.
Miami Herald reporter Rene Rodriguez contributed to this report.