US airlines denounce Trump family separations

American Airlines said it had no knowledge that its planes had been used to implement Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
American Airlines said it had no knowledge that its planes had been used to implement Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Two major US carriers said Wednesday (June 20) they had asked the US government to not use their planes to transport children separated from their families under the Trump administration's immigration policies.

Facing a deepening public outcry, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive action, ending his administration's policy of separating children from parents accused of illegally crossing the US border.

American Airlines said it had no knowledge that its planes had been used to implement Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy but that the government did not disclose information about passengers.

"We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it," American said. "We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so."

United Airlines issued a similar statement from chief executive Oscar Munoz, acknowledging reports that commercial planes were used for "zero tolerance," while saying it had no direct knowledge of the practice on its planes.

"Our company's shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world," Munoz said. "This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it."

A third carrier, the smaller Frontier Airlines, also distanced itself from the policy, saying it "prides itself on being a family airline" and would not "knowingly" cooperate with family separations.

'False narrative' 

Trump announced Wednesday he would sign an executive order to keep migrant families together at the border with Mexico. The move follows intense pressure from lawmakers in both parties following a public uproar over the policy.

Since early May, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their families.

Accounts involving US airlines and "zero tolerance" have surfaced on social media and in some newspapers, including an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Hunt Palmquist, a flight attendant in Dallas who recognized after two flights that children flying with US immigration officials had probably been separated from their families.

"The little children whose faces were full of fear, confusion, sadness and exhaustion left me somewhat traumatized as it occurred to me a few weeks later that I might as well have been a collaborator in their transport," Palmquist said in the opinion piece, which The Chronicle said had been lightly edited from a Facebook post.

Department of Homeland Securities spokesman Tyler Houlton criticised the airlines for "buckling to a false narrative" on the issue.

"It's unfortunate that American, United, and Frontier Airlines no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the travelling public, combat human trafficking and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families," Houlton said.