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Texas spent nearly $1 million on four flights for migrants, records show

A white jet taking off from ABIA. The bottom of the plane can be seen against a cloudy, gray sky. There are no obvious markings on the plane besides the tail number, which is only partially visible.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
According to documents The Texas Newsroom obtained through a public records request, the state has used four airplanes to transport a total of 884 migrants.

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The state of Texas has spent more than $845,000 flying migrants to New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago, according to invoices released to The Texas Newsroom.

The highest average cost per passenger for one flight to New York City topped $1,200, the records show.

The flights, which transported migrants after they’d been apprehended and released by federal authorities along the Southern border, are part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s $10 billion Operation Lone Star border initiative.

The Texas Newsroom recently reported the state has spent over $148 million busing migrants since April 2022. Gov. Abbott is also flying migrants outside of border communities like Eagle Pass and El Paso.

Abbott didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, who joined the governor at a press conference in Eagle Pass earlier this month, recently told The Texas Newsroom he supports the governor’s initiative, saying the burden on the state is “immense.”

“It’s very much well-spent money, sending illegal immigrants to other areas of the United States,” Shaheen said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been having to spend billions of dollars on the border. This is the clear responsibility of the Biden administration and they are failing at their job to protect the State of Texas.”

Four flights to the Midwest, East Coast

According to documents The Texas Newsroom obtained through a public records request, the state has used four airplanes to transport a total of 884 migrants. Seventy percent of the passengers come from Venezuela, the records show.

Four invoices provided by the Texas Division of Emergency Management show the first flight left El Paso on Dec. 19, 2023, and landed at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

That flight carried 122 passengers and cost the state $135,000 — that’s about $1,107 per person. North Carolina-based iAero Airways was contracted for the flight, according to the invoices.

The cost of that flight was first reported by KXAN.

The Texas Newsroom recently obtained three more previously unreported invoices.

According to these records, Texas paid Virginia-based Zephyr Aviation, LLC, $710,458 for December 2023 flights to New York City and Rockford, Ill., and a January flight to Philadelphia.

The prices on Zephyr Aviation chartered flights ranged from $662.27 to $1,209.72 per passenger.

Records show the last flight Texas chartered was on Jan. 2.

It’s unclear if Gov. Abbott will continue using flights to transport migrants — crossings through Texas have declined since December.

However, he’s said he’ll keep transporting migrants out of state.

State Rep. Eddie Morales, Jr., a Democrat who represents parts of the border where migrants are being apprehended, told The Texas Newsroom the state should focus on other priorities, like providing support to border communities.

“Texans need to demand from their state top leaders to stop playing these games and to stop wasting Texas taxpayers’ funds,” Morales said.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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