On June 17 a plane painted with the red, white, and blue colors of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots lifted off from Harlingen, Texas. This plane, however, wasn’t going to deliver the football team to a game. It was crossing the Gulf of Mexico, en route to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on a deportation flight. This would be the plane’s (tail no. N225NE) fourth and final deportation run that week. According to Sports Aviation, a Twitter account that tracks the flights of sports teams, the plane had been used in January to fly the Patriots to a playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
Now, instead of brawny football players enjoying a state-of-the-art entertainment system with spacious seats, the plane was filled with people shackled at their wrists, around their waists, squeezing their ankles. To go to the bathroom, people had to shuffle and navigate the chains and cuffs. They had to hunch down to eat. A plane for a top football team had been converted into an airborne prison.
The plane, as described in this video, is the team’s backup (they have two planes). But even though the Patriots seem to own the plane, they do not run it. It is run by a charter company called Eastern. And Eastern does business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The University of Washington Center for Human Rights, an organization that has been keeping a close eye on deportation flights for a few years, wrote about it in a Twitter thread in June.
Sociologist Angelina Godoy, who is director of the center, told me that the point of bringing attention to this connection between the Patriots and deportation flights was not to shame the athletes or even the team (who probably didn’t know), but to show that the “businesses that profit from deportation are very close to our favorite athletes and entertainers,” a powerful yet hidden reality. And the issue goes well beyond the Patriots, as Godoy demonstrates in the report Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry. The report, published in June, offers a wealth of information that makes these connections across many teams and several different airlines.
This content originally appeared on CounterPunch.org and was authored by Todd Miller.