Immigrant Children Land at Scranton Airport Amid Lax COVID-19 Protocols

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas:
December 29, 2021 Updated: December 29, 2021

While wearing a mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on an airplane and in airports is federally required, workers at the Wilkes Barre-Scranton International Airport in Pennsylvania say that only about half of the immigrant children, teens, and chaperones who have been flown into that facility on charter flights have been wearing masks.

Now, at least one airport worker has contracted COVID-19.

It leaves airport staff wondering if they want to take more flights or if they need to crack down on COVID mitigation protocols that have become lax on these flights, Jim Gallagher, an airport contractor, told The Epoch Times.

Gallagher is president of Aviation Technologies Inc., a fixed-based operator at the airport that has a government contract to fuel and facilitate federal aviation travel, including military, federal prison, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights. Lately, the contract has had them serving planes chartered by the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

The airport has received four airplanes in December carrying hundreds of illegal immigrant children and adolescents to be resettled in the region, and three more planeloads—each with a capacity for 150 passengers—are expected on Dec. 30, 31, and Jan. 1.

After crossing the southern border illegally, the children are being flown from Texas, placed on private charter buses in Pennsylvania, and then sent to destinations that airport workers are instructed not to disclose, U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) told The Epoch Times in a statement.

“Since learning of these flights, I have been in contact with airport officials and contacted the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (HHS) to get answers from each agency on their protocols for notifying local officials, COVID-19 testing, criminal background checks, as well as the immigrants’ final destination. I have also discussed the issue with several of my colleagues in Congress to develop a plan to prevent immigrant resettlement flights from continuing to occur without consulting local officials,” said Meuser, whose congressional district ends just outside the airport.

“Wilkes Barre and Scranton are now border cities as a direct result of the Biden Administration’s policies at the southern border. Since coming to office, President Biden resumed ‘catch and release,’ ended Title 42 expulsions for illegal immigrants, and incentivized illegal immigration with the promise of amnesty in the House-passed Build Back Better Act.

“These policies are the reason why this year, 2 million illegal immigrants crossed the border. Overdose fatalities are at an all-time high in my district and throughout the country because twice as much fentanyl has crossed the border this year compared to 2020.”

Epoch Times Photo
Central and South American migrants await access into the United States at the El Chapperal migrant encampment in Tijuana, Mexico, on May 22, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

It’s the legal responsibility of HHS to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be unified with a parent or a vetted sponsor, the department said in an email to The Epoch Times.

“As part of the unification process, our Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilitates travel for the children in its custody to their family or sponsors across the country. Over recent weeks, unaccompanied children passed through the Wilkes-Barre airport en route to their final destination to be unified with their parents or vetted sponsor,” an HHS spokesperson said.

The ORR only cares for unaccompanied children 17 years of age and younger, not adults or families.

Christmas With the Feds

On Christmas night, the airport handled two immigrant-filled airplanes and about 240 young passengers. The last plane that night came in around 9 p.m. and most flights have been at odd hours, which has caused workers to scramble to staff the flights.

Airport workers noticed the children didn’t speak English; instead, most spoke one of several dialects of Spanish common in far southern regions. A few seemed to be from the Middle East, based on their clothing. There was a typical mix of boys and girls.

Each child or teen had a single duffel bag with their name written on a piece of duct tape stuck to the bag. Some were crying when they got off the airplane, Gallagher said. Hundreds of children were on the tarmac in the dark because that’s when they were sent.

“We had to set every bag on the tarmac for the children to find their bag before they boarded the bus,” Gallagher said.

The airport often takes diverted flights, and that is what some of these were. One plane was headed to the Allentown airport, but Allentown refused to take them.

“They called us that morning and said look: ‘We’ve got a flight coming and we can’t find a place to land. Will you take them?’” Gallagher said. That was Dec. 17. The plane landed around 10:30 p.m. with 150 people.

Another flight was diverted from New York.

In early June, ORR began distributing COVID-19 vaccines to eligible unaccompanied children, following CDC guidance. All unaccompanied children follow COVID-19 protocols and must be medically cleared to travel, the ORR said. While traveling, the children are required to wear masks and follow all federal guidelines for safe air travel.

Epoch Times Photo
Immigrants captured by Border Patrol agents are transferred to a hotel in Indio, Calif., on Oct. 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Meuser says families and young people are coming to the United States under false pretenses.

“They think there is a welcome mat for the United States, and that upon arrival, they will have a better way of life. The drug cartels, and in a way, the Biden administration, are lying to these immigrants, that their trek to the United States will be easy,” Meuser said.

“The fact is, hundreds die on the perilous journey to the border, and some are deported after paying their life savings to a cartel for passage. It is a humanitarian crisis.

“President Biden rescinded Executive Order 13888 that ensured Governors would be consulted and could prevent the relocation of illegal immigrants to their states. Although Governors no longer have such authority, [Pennsylvania] Governor [Tom] Wolf should be demanding answers from the Biden Administration, as I am.

“Every Pennsylvanian should be concerned that the Biden Administration’s policies have turned the southern border into a humanitarian crisis and our state into a border state.”

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: