published : 2023-11-07

Dozens of GOP Lawmakers Demand Buttigieg Stop Housing Migrants at Airports

DHS proposes using airports to accommodate migrants

Migrant families waiting at an airport terminal, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Dozens of House Republicans, led by the head of the Transportation Committee, are urging Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to halt the housing of migrants at airports across the country. As the federal government grapples with finding solutions for accommodating illegal immigrants, concerns are rising among communities that similar actions may be taken with their own airports.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Sam Graves, House Republican Conference Chairwoman, Elise Stefanik, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman, Garret Graves, Representative Anthony D’Esposito, and 66 other House Republican lawmakers have jointly written a letter to Secretary Buttigieg expressing their opposition to the plans of housing migrants at airports.

In August, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed 11 federal sites in New York and nearby areas where migrants could be housed, including airports. Bloomberg News reported that this recommendation encompassed New Jersey's Atlantic City Airport and Massena International Airport, which serves as a U.S. port of entry for the U.S.-Canada border. Additionally, a hangar at JFK airport has been utilized for this purpose.

Migrants have already been housed at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which has prompted lawmakers to voice their concerns about the potential expansion of this practice to other airports. The lawmakers argue that airport infrastructure is intended for commerce and transportation, not as accommodations for unvetted and undocumented migrants. They call on Buttigieg to enforce public airport grant assurances and reject any plans for housing migrants.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressing a press conference, taken with a Nikon D850

The lawmakers are particularly worried about security risks associated with housing migrants at airports and assert that airports are required to seek permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before using their facilities for nonaeronautical purposes. They implore the Transportation Secretary to direct the FAA to refuse any attempts to house migrants at airports by federal, state, or local agencies.

In their letter, the lawmakers ask the Transportation Department for information on the number and specific airports being used as migrant shelters, as well as whether any requests for housing migrants have been granted by the FAA. They also seek clarification on the extent of the FAA's involvement and consultation regarding housing migrants at airports.

The impact of the migrant crisis at the southern border is extending beyond border states, with New York being significantly affected as migrants travel north, supported by states like Texas. The situation has overwhelmed New York City, prompting the declaration that there is no more space to accommodate migrants. Other states and cities have also called for increased federal government assistance in dealing with the crisis.

Efforts to house migrants have encountered substantial opposition from Republicans. Representative Stefanik has actively opposed the conversion of Massena International Airport into a housing site, protesting against transforming Upstate and North Country into a surrogate 'Sanctuary City.' Republicans attribute the crisis to the Biden administration's policies and have called for a reversal while proposing their own reforms focused on enhancing border security and reducing releases of migrants into the interior of the country.

Protesters holding signs at a community rally against housing migrants at airports, taken with a Sony Alpha A7 III

The Biden administration has requested $14 billion in emergency supplemental funding, which incorporates $1.4 billion to provide shelter and services for migrants released from DHS custody. Additionally, $800 million has already been allocated by the administration to states and non-governmental organizations to assist with the relocation of released migrants within the United States.

Adam Shaw, a political reporter specializing in immigration and border security, contributed to this article.