Meuser, Barletta seek details on reports of undocumented immigrants being flown into AVP | Times Leader


By Bill O’Boyle

Monday, December 27, 2021


Congressman’s letter says 130 people in country illegally were flown to AVP

<img src="" alt="<p>Barletta



PITTSTON TWP. — U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser and Republican candidate for governor Lou Barletta on Sunday were looking for answers on reports that four airplanes carrying undocumented immigrants have landed at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport over the past two weeks and were taken to destinations not yet confirmed.

Meuser, R-Dallas, and Barletta, a former Congressman from Hazleton, have sent letters to Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro asking them to confirm the reports and to provide details of where they planes originated and were the occupants thoroughly vetted regarding their backgrounds and COVID status.

James Gallagher, president of Aviation Technologies, which is based at the airport, confirmed the four flights arrived — Dec. 11, Dec. 17 and two on Dec. 25 — and he said a fifth flight is scheduled to arrive Dec. 30 at 5 p.m. Gallagher said at least two of the flights were diverted to AVP from other airports.

Gallagher said his company holds government contracts, including military contracts. He said his business and AVP are publicly funded and must accept the flights.

“We are just doing our job,” Gallagher said. “We have no way of knowing details about the passengers — where they came from or where they were taken.”

Gallagher said most were children and teenagers. He said their names were written on duct tape attached to their bags. He said most did not speak English and interpreters traveled with them.

“We don[‘t know their status,” Gallagher sad. “It seems that all of the vetting should take place at the border, but it appears that there isn’t much transparency there. More information needs to be provided. There needs to be more control.”

Gallagher said each plane carried between 100 and 120 passengers.

Meuser’s letter was sent to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and to Tae Johnson, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In his letter, Meuser expressed concern about recent reports that the federal government has flown undocumented immigrants to the Wilkes Barre-Scranton International Airport.

“It is my understanding that a total of 130 immigrants, 118 minors and 12 adults, arrived aboard an iAero charter flight on Friday, Dec. 17, and were subsequently transported on buses from a private hangar,” Meuser wrote. “This flight seems to have occurred without airport officials receiving notice or a passenger manifest.”

Meuser said Sunday that he has been told that two more flights arrived at the airport on Saturday.

“The lack of communication and transparency surrounding this process is unacceptable,” Meuser said. “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. Pennsylvanians deserve to know about these decisions affecting their community,”

Meuser then asked several questions of the two federal officials:

• How many undocumented immigrants were transported to the Wilkes Barre-Scranton area and under what conditions are they being released?

• Are undocumented immigrants arriving in Wilkes Barre for the sole purpose of traveling elsewhere, or is Wilkes Barre the final destination for any of these illegal immigrants?

• Are the minors on this plane being relocated to be reunited with a family member, to be held in another detention facility, or being transferred to the custody of another entity?

• Is your agency tracking every undocumented immigrant released to ensure they arrive at the appropriate destination?

• Is every undocumented immigrant tested for COVID-19 before being released?

• With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly throughout Pennsylvania and the nation, what is the protocol for an undocumented immigrant who tests positive for COVID-19?

• What is your protocol for informing local officials of the release of undocumented immigrants into their communities?

• Are you conducting criminal background checks, utilizing both the U.S. crime database and the equivalent in the individual’s country of origin, for every individual released?

• Are all released individuals expected to appear in court and what is the current estimated time-frame for Notices to Appear?

“I am calling on you and President Biden to immediately end this irresponsible practice in northeast Pennsylvania and throughout the country,” Meuser wrote. “The Biden Administration has failed to secure the southern border and encouraged the mass migration that has been occurring for months. It is unconscionable that such policies have proceeded amid a global pandemic, economic crisis, and epidemic drug abuse to which an open border certainly contributes. This mismanagement is now directly impacting the people I represent, and I expect you will provide me the answers I need to address my constituents’ concerns.”

Meuser said he was at the airport Sunday and spoke with several people who he said were protesting the arrival of the planes. He said the people he spoke with were concerned about the passengers and the need for the planes to arrive late at night.

Meuser said he is determined to confirm all the reports and to obtain all details on the passengers and where they were taken and if they were properly vetted.

Meuser said he was told one group was placed on a bus and taken to Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Times Leader has not been successful in confirming any of the information provided by Meuser. No response was given to questions asked via email of Gov. Tom Wolf’s office or Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. Officials at the airport have not responded, nor did the owner of Aviation Technologies, which reportedly handled the arrivals of the flights.

Meuser added that he was told most of the arriving passengers were children of varying ages and were not accompanied by adults, except for a few adult supervisors. He said he was told that some of the passengers had addresses written on their arms.

“My job is to do everything I can to assure they are vetted properly, that they are not criminals, and are not positive for COVID-19,” Meuser said.

Barletta letter

Barletta sent a letter to Wolf and Shapiro asking many of the same questions Meuser has raised.

In a news release issued Sunday afternoon, Barletta said two more chartered airplanes originating in El Paso, Texas, landed at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport on Christmas night, “adding to the evidence that illegal immigrants are being flown to Northeast Pennsylvania without citizens’ knowledge.”

Barletta said the two flights originated in El Paso, stopped in Cincinnati and landed in Pennsylvania at 6:48 p.m. and 8:47 p.m. on Dec. 25, according to Barletta said the air carrier was World Atlantic Airlines, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transport undocumented immigrants.

Barletta, a former member of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, demanded answers from Wolf and Shapiro in a letter last week, after similar flights allegedly took place on Dec. 17.

“I asked Gov. Wolf and Attorney General Shapiro a series of straightforward questions about these flights, and they haven’t provided any answers,” Barletta said. “Now we see evidence of more flights on Christmas night, and people want to know if illegal immigrants are being transported to our community, whether they’ve undergone background checks and health screenings, and why no one was notified that this was happening.”

Barletta said witnesses at the airport took photographs of one of the planes being met by a charter bus for ground transportation.

In Barletta’s letter to Wolf and Shapiro on Dec. 23, he noted that such flights would be “in line with the established policy of the Biden administration to transport illegal immigrants from the border to other locations within the country.” He said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed the existence of such flights to other states, and only quibbled about the time of day they were occurring. null

null Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle. Previous articleDeadline nearing for county’s youth duffel bag donationsNext articleLuzerne County implements school program for traumatized youth

William O’BoyleBill O’Boyle is the Times Leader Media Group’s news columnist/staff writer. He has written for the Times Leader since April 2007, covering everything from municipal government issues, business, features, human interest, presidential races and local, state and national politics to breaking news. A Plymouth native now living in Plains Township, O’Boyle has been active in a range of community and sporting activities, including volunteering with Victory Sports for adults with mental and physical challenges.

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