Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied the agency helped charter several flights for illegal immigrants, even as a Republican lawmaker seeks answers from the Department of Homeland Security.
The agency denied involvement in organizing flights that landed at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport on Dec. 11, 17, and 25, according to the Times Tribune. A spokeswoman from ICE suggested the flights may have been chartered by another agency and denied they belonged to them.
"These are not our flights," Mary Houtmann, a spokeswoman for ICE, wrote to the outlet.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT CHARGED WITH MURDER AFTER POSING AS MINOR TO CROSS BORDER
Houtmann suggested the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement may have been behind the chartered flights.
Several Scranton residents shared their frustrations on social media after planes full of illegal immigrants were allegedly flown into the northeastern Pennsylvania town, with some sharing video footage purportedly showing confrontations with airport workers over their role in helping migrants deplane and board buses.
Several politicians, including Republican Pennsylvania state Rep. Dan Meuser and GOP gubernatorial candidate and former Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta, have called for "transparency" and answers from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Meuser sent a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson last Thursday to express his concern over "recent reports that the federal government has flown illegal immigrants to the Wilkes Barre-Scranton International Airport." He claimed 130 immigrants, 118 minors, and 12 adults arrived on Dec. 17 via an iAero charter flight and subsequently traveled by bus.
"The lack of communication and transparency surrounding this process is unacceptable. Your agency failed to notify me or any other local officials of these activities, leaving us unable to answer the concerns of constituents in the communities we represent," he wrote Thursday. "Pennsylvanians deserve to know about these decisions affecting their community, and I expect immediate answers."
Among the questions Meuser asked were whether the migrants tested for COVID-19 or if criminal background checks were conducted.
Tim Murtaugh, the senior adviser to Barletta's campaign, told the Washington Examiner the gubernatorial candidate has yet to receive an "answer from either one" after he sent his own letter to Wolf and Shapiro.
"There are serious concerns that arise when accepting flights of illegal immigrants," Barletta wrote in the letter, adding that it is "extremely difficult to adequately screen people and conduct a thorough background check" on whether they've "entered the country by illegal means."
The United States is facing not only a rising crime rate but also "the tightening of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus," Barletta said.
"Extending such accommodation to illegal immigrants at taxpayer expense is a slap in the face to legal immigrants who followed the proper processes to emigrate to this country," the letter continued. "It sends the message that they need not have bothered following our laws, because it is now American policy to decline to enforce those laws at all."
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
This isn't the first instance in which planes reportedly flew in during the middle of night carrying migrants. In October, it was revealed that planes full of underage migrants flew into New York by the Biden administration. These charter flights, which begin in Texas, have been going on since August, sources familiar with the incident told the New York Post.
The Washington Examiner reached out to ICE, Wolf, Shapiro, and Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents Scranton in the House, for statements but did not receive responses.