In the hours before President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their families at the southern border, American, United, Southwest, Alaska and Frontier airlines all issued statements asking the government to not use their planes to do so.
American Airlines was the first to stake a position, saying “we bring families together, not apart.… We have therefore requested the federal government to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy. We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” it concluded in a news release dated 10:50 a.m.
“Following American’s announcement, United, Southwest and Frontier released similar statements,” NBC’s Jessica Spitz writes.
“‘Our company's shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world,’ United CEO Oscar 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.’
“In a Twitter post, Frontier said, ‘Frontier prides itself on being a family airline and we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families.’
“In its statement, Southwest said it wanted no part of separating children from their parents, Reuters reported,” Spitz writes.
“To our knowledge, we haven't transported any immigrant children who have been separated from their families, and today informed the government that we do not want to do so,” Alaska Airlines later said, CBS’ Sarah Lynch writes.
The Department on Homeland Security expressed consternation at the airlines’ position.
“It’s unfortunate that @AmericanAir, @united, and @FlyFrontier no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the traveling public, combat human trafficking, and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families,” Tyler Q. Houlton, its spokesperson, tweeted.
His thread continues: “Buckling to a false media narrative only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers. We wish the airlines would instead choose to be part of the solution.”
Writing for the Dallas News in American Airlines’ hometown, Conor Shine points out that “the airlines’ actions are among the most vocal pushback by U.S. corporations against a new zero-tolerance immigration policy that took effect in May, which has led to an estimated 2,300 children being separated from their parents and has become a growing target of criticism and outrage over the last week.
“The public stance came as increasing scrutiny fell on U.S. airlines’ role in transporting separated children, some of whom are reportedly being transferred from border areas to federal facilities in other states, including Michigan, New York and Florida,” Shine continues.
“The involvement of the airline industry in the drama showed just how pervasive and passionate the opposition to the original policy had become. Several flight attendants for American, the world’s largest airline, had posted testimony on public and private social media channels in recent days, describing how they had seen groups of Latino children on domestic flights, accompanied not by parents but by federal agents,” writes Richard Fausset for the New York Times.
In particular, “the statements follow a furor that erupted around a story posted last week by a flight attendant, who recounted her co-worker's apparent experiences serving 16 migrant children on an overnight flight,” recounts NPR’s Colin Dwyer.
“‘Children! Thirty-two scared eyes looking straight forward dazed. We try to speak, yet none speak English,’ the [Facebook] post reads. ‘During the beverage service, one of the crew comes to me in tears. They can’t face these children that have been ripped from their families with a smile.’
“Questions have circulated about the story's veracity, which NPR has not independently confirmed — though a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union told The Arizona Republic that the account was indeed authentic,” Dwyer writes.
Other companies may be, and have been, drawn into the controversy. The so-called “Immigration Industrial Complex” in general; Microsoft in particular.
“Two days earlier, Microsoft called itself ‘dismayed’ by the policy after taking criticism for its business dealings with DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Tanya Snyder reminds us for Politico.
Yesterday’s signing of the executive order was itself a media event in the Oval Office during which Trump claimed “that he isn’t backing down,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson, Sarah Westwood, Laura Jarrett and Tal Kopan write.
They also obverse that “the President was not required to sign anything to change the administration’s practice that elicited outrage. He could have reversed the practice of splitting children from their parents with a phone call.”
Phone calls, however, don’t play that all that well.