Iowa governor questions migrant flights into Des Moines


DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds complained in a letter sent Thursday that the federal government didn’t notify her before flying migrant children into the Des Moines airport in April, then shuttling them to other cities as part of an effort to join them with relatives.

In a letter sent to Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Reynolds called for a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on immigration that should address the Biden administration’s lack of notice when it moves children through the states.

Although similar migrant children relocation occurred during the Trump and Obama administrations, Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the recent flight was different because it occurred late at night and a federal agency initially denied it had organized the flight.

Reynolds claims 19 children were flown into the Des Moines International Airport from Long Beach, California, late on April 22. Two buses were used to transport most of the children to other airports in or near Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Janesville, Wisconsin. Two children were unified with their sponsors at the Des Moines airport.

Reynolds, a Republican and a Donald Trump supporter, said little about immigration problems when Trump was president despite highly publicized issues, but she has repeatedly sought to focus attention on President Joe Biden’s immigration efforts since the Democrat took office.

In the letter, Reynolds said Trump had made significant progress at the nation’s southern border and argued Biden’s “failed policies have incentivized the largest surge in illegal crossings in 20 years, including the largest monthly number of unaccompanied children in history.”

Reynolds said the lack of notice about the movement of children through the airport forced law enforcement to investigate whether the flights indicated “a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.”

The letter also was signed by Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who questioned similar flights into his state.

The travel was arranged by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Administration for Children and Families, which is in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement said in a statement that its mission is to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be unified with a vetted sponsor, usually a parent or close relative.

“Their parents and relatives are located across the United States, and ORR contractors use various transportation modes to unite unaccompanied children with their families. These modes include air and ground transportation options, taking into account child safety and wellness, travel time, and cost-effectiveness. This travel may consist of flights originating from various locations with stops/layovers in different airports,” the agency said.

Data from the agency shows 27,417 unaccompanied children have been released to sponsors since October 2020, including 163 in Iowa. Last year, Iowa sponsors took 119 children and 489 were located with Iowa sponsors in 2019.

The agency provided data details numbers of children brought to Iowa since 2015.

Reynolds last month rejected a federal request for the state to help migrant children, saying the need to find homes for them “is the president’s problem.”

Reynolds’ stand contrasted with her willingness to accept refugees coming into the United States when Trump raised the issue in 2019. At that time, Trump signed an executive order giving states the right to refuse to take refugees.

Reynolds was among more than 30 governors who said they would accept refugees.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement that Reynolds is “only focused on dividing and distracting Iowans from her own record and using a fake crisis to further attacks on our friends and neighbors.”

However, Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, whose district includes Des Moines, also complained that when she asked about reports of the flights, the Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t clarify the situation.

“I join Governor Reynolds in demanding further investigation and disclosure from HHS to determine why this flight was kept secret and why its existence was denied to both the public and to the public officials seeking to learn the whole truth,” Axne said in a statement.

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