(Bloomberg) -- American Airlines Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. asked the U.S. government not to fly immigrant children separated from their families on their aircraft as President Donald Trump said he was abandoning his “zero tolerance” border-enforcement policy.
In joining critics of the U.S. detention of the youngsters, the carriers highlighted a central mystery in the political and human-rights crisis: Federal officials weren’t saying how the children were being ferried from near the U.S.-Mexico border to a network of facilities in 17 states.
“Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents,” United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz said Wednesday in an emailed statement. Southwest Airlines Co. issued a similar statement.
Frontier Airlines Inc. and Spirit Airlines Inc. said they wouldn’t knowingly transport migrant children away from their families. Delta Air Lines Inc. applauded Trump’s order to end the separations, calling them “disheartening.”
Airlines said, however, that they didn’t know if the government was transporting immigrant children on their flights. Most major airlines have contracts to transport federal employees, but that doesn’t mean they know who’s being flown on any particular flight.
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“These airlines clearly do not understand our immigration laws and the long-standing devastating loopholes that have caused the crisis at our southern border,” Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said via Twitter.
It’s “unfortunate” that the airlines “no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS,” he wrote. The department didn’t respond to a question asking how the detained children are transported.
The conflict came as Trump signed an executive order to prevent children from being separated from their families when the government detains immigrants at the border.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CFA said it was asking airlines how its members will be notified if separated children are on flights and for guidance on how to respond in such situations. The union, the largest for U.S. flight attendants, said it “condemns any action to purposefully separate children from their parents.”
The policy of separating children from their families when they’re arrested for illegally crossing the border drew fierce criticism around the world. Pope Francis condemned the family separation policy as “contrary to our Catholic values.” British Prime Minister Theresa May called it “deeply disturbing” and “wrong.”
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