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Immigration Law

Where Sports and Deportation Meet: ICE Is Removing People on the Same Planes Used to Transport Teams

Todd Miller, The Border Chronicle, Sept. 15, 2022

"On June 17 a plane painted with the red, white, and blue colors of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots lifted off from Harlingen, Texas. This plane, however, wasn’t going to deliver the football team to a game. It was crossing the Gulf of Mexico, en route to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on a deportation flight. This would be the plane’s (tail no. N225NE) fourth and final deportation run that week. According to Sports Aviation, a Twitter account that tracks the flights of sports teams, the plane had been used in January to fly the Patriots to a playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Now, instead of brawny football players enjoying a state-of-the-art entertainment system with spacious seats, the plane was filled with people shackled at their wrists, around their waists, squeezing their ankles. To go to the bathroom, people had to shuffle and navigate the chains and cuffs. They had to hunch down to eat. A plane for a top football team had been converted into an airborne prison. The plane, as described in this video, is the team’s backup (they have two planes). But even though the Patriots seem to own the plane, they do not run it. It is run by a charter company called Eastern. And Eastern does business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ... On the one hand, government accountability is evaded “behind layers of private contracts.” On the other hand, as Godoy made clear to me in our interview, there is a “juxtaposition” of planes used to transport our favorite teams, and even offer luxury travel and gourmet dinners, while other flights have shackled people deprived of dignity and expelled against their will. When I watched the playoff game in January, in which my favorite team, the Buffalo Bills, beat the Patriots 47-17, I was among millions of viewers, most of whom weren’t aware of these connections between sports planes and deportations (myself included). But the border and immigration enforcement apparatus is not something so distant from the greater public, Godoy told me. “Let’s be honest,” she said, “and realize the degree to which many athletes and entertainers we love are making deportations possible by patronizing the very businesses that carry them out, although other transportation options are available.”"