Lawmakers Cite CIS in Demanding End to Secretive Immigrant Flights

Government press releases don’t acknowledge flight program

By Todd Bensman on March 11, 2024

Nearly two dozen House of Representatives lawmakers have cited Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) reporting in a letter demanding an end to a “secretive” Biden government program that has authorized commercial air flights for hundreds of thousands of inadmissible aliens to fly sight unseen from foreign airports into dozens of American ones for quick release into the country on parole.

From October 2022 through December 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection granted flight authorizations to more than 320,000 immigrants after they used the CBP One app while still abroad and then paid to fly with that permission from foreign airports into U.S. airports whose locations the agency refuses to release. Each is eligible for two-year renewable work authorizations in cities staggering under the burden of caring for hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals arriving with no resources.

In the letter demanding the names of those airports and an “immediate” end to the government flight authorizations, 23 Republican lawmakers cite a March 4 Center for Immigration Studies report revealing that government lawyers argue for withholding airport locations on alleged grounds that high program volumes have created security vulnerabilities that “bad actors” could exploit. The New York Post first reported the letter.

“These secretive flights have compounded the effects of an already historic crisis at the Southern Border,” the lawmakers, spearheaded by Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.), wrote to Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller. “We urge you to provide Congress and the American people with information as to where these illegal immigrants have been deposited into the country and immediately terminate this practice.”

The demand letter arrived at CBP headquarters as a national presidential campaign heats up and a historic mass migration crisis in U.S. cities impacts polling as an apex political issue.

The letter presents the kind of pressure the Biden administration undoubtedly sought to head off by systematically obscuring the flights into U.S. cities that are staggering under the unplanned fiscal burdens of caring for hundreds of thousands of needy immigrants and having no idea that some of it could be ended with a White House phone call.

No Democratic lawmakers signed the letter.

A Backdrop of Omission, Obfuscation, and Incognito Travel

Some U.S. media outlets last week challenged characterizations of the CIS report by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, X owner Elon Musk, and various social media influencers on the political right, but not the factual bases of CIS reporting about the direct-flight program. Some have incorrectly reinterpreted the program to suggest federal taxpayers are picking up the flight costs, but others came closer to accuracy in calling it a secret government program.

The claim of secrecy holds more merit, even though the administration initially announced it in January 2023 for four nationalities — Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans (CHNV) — and has published plans for how it was envisioned to work.

Since announcing the program, Biden officials have rarely spoken of it or provided public data clearly linking its entries to international flights. CIS filed a FOIA request for granular details of the program in March 2023 — and then sued when the government did not provide it.

For example, the administration and media outlets recently asserted that the flights are announced every month in CBP update reports to U.S. media. But the section for the apparent flights program is only titled as “CHNV Parole Processes” with no mention of air travel.

Within these releases, there is no explicit mention that air travel is used to transport those four nationalities as that information would quickly attract media attention and raise questions. To boot, these monthly press updates fail to reflect that CBP has added five more nationalities to the flights program, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Ecuador, or offers a breakout of numbers that reflect them. No links or contextual descriptive information is provided at all, in fact, that would suggest air travel.

CHNV Parole Processes
The government’s January 2024 press release fails to mention that this section reflects a foreign flights program that has been expanded from the original four "CHNV" nationalities by five more.

This screenshot from the January 2024 update, for example, only accounts for the original four nationalities under the same opaque “CHNV Parole Processes” section that makes no reference to air travel, only that these four nationalities were “authorized for travel”.

In line with that sort of obfuscation, of course, there is no mention of their departure airport locations abroad or destination airports in U.S. cities that are struggling to house, feed, medically treat, and integrate many hundreds of thousands of immigrants showing up, as far as elected officials and local voters know, mainly in buses sent by Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Information that Biden’s DHS has been wittingly authorizing flights into their cities would no doubt give rise to pressure for a White House phone call that could end these arrivals at any time or at least help city leaders better plan for immigrant care costs.

Earlier CIS Reports Point to Smaller Number of Receiving Airports

On September 21, 2023, CIS first reported data about the flights program and indications that vast numbers of immigrants preferred — or were directed to — particular airports, in a blog entitled “New Records: Biden DHS Has Approved Hundreds of Thousands of Migrants for Secretive Foreign Flights Directly into the U.S. Airports”.

Through August of that year, CIS’s initial report disclosed, CBP had authorized the travel of more than 221,000 immigrants from primarily four countries into at least 35 U.S. airports and as many as 43. Nationalities who’d flown in by that time were still just citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. (See the Excel files for “Parole Arrivals” for Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.)

The data through August shows that some airports were taking them in far greater numbers than others.

For instance, a total of 76,582 Haitians who’d flown in through mid-September 2023. Almost all of them flew into three airports, 47,768 of them into just one airport.

Of the 63,360 Venezuelans, 39,474 flew into one preferred airport. Of the 46,794 Cubans, 33,355 favored one in particular. Two-thirds of the 34,720 Nicaraguans flew into just two airports.

A Secretive Companion Entry Program at Land Ports, Too

Like the flights program, the Biden administration also announced a land ports entry program using the CBP One app in January 2023, in which CBP officers escort immigrants approved for entry while still in Mexico. The government initially sold the program as just for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.

Through December 2023, CBP approved more than 420,000 escorted crossings through the land ports from Mexico and quick paroles into the American interior to travel wherever they wished afterward. They, too, have no doubt helped to fill U.S. cities in a traffic flow that could be stopped at any time with a White House phone call.

But also like the flights program after its public announcement, officials of the Biden government shut up about it afterward. Probably for this reason:

CIS obtained the data via litigation, which showed the administration had been secretively using the land ports crossing program since May 2021, a full 19 months earlier than it had acknowledged. And that data also showed that 93 more nationalities than the four announced were receiving the benefit. (See “New Records Unveil Surprising Scope of Secretive ‘CBP One’ Entry Scheme”.)

Thousands of them were from nations of terrorism concern. (See “Thousands of Special Interest Aliens Posing Potential National Security Risks Entering via CBP One App”.)

Among them, surprisingly, were 85,000 Mexicans as part of what appears to many to be an unauthorized work program that Congress never approved.

Neither Musk, Trump, nor the 23 lawmakers who sent the March 8 letter demanding cessation of the flights program explicitly mention the land ports entry program. But the letter does more generally complain of its underlying infrastructure: “The Biden administration’s usage of the CBP One mobile application has [exacerbated] this deposit of illegal immigrants in our country.”