AVOCA, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Eyewitness News is continuing to learn more about federally chartered flights into the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. We confirmed the flights were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
An HHS spokesperson says unaccompanied children passed through AVP en route to their final destination to be united with their parents or vetted sponsor. The Office of Refugee Resettlement uses various transportation modes to unite unaccompanied children with their families.
While sponsors or family members are being vetted, children are placed in OOR’s care provider network specializing in immigrant children services.
On the evening of December 25, two World Atlantic Airlines 80 series jets landed at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
Eyewitness News sent a request to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, to find out who was on these flights, and if they were part of a refugee resettlement operation.
Tuesday evening, an HHS spokesperson responded with a statement:
“It is our legal responsibility to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be swiftly unified with a parent or a vetted sponsor. As part of the unification process, our office of refugee resettlement 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.”
According to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, HHS has custody and must provide care for each unaccompanied child, a child under 18 who has no legal immigration status in the U.S., and no parent or legal guardian in the U.S.
These children are usually referred to ORR by Homeland Security, after being apprehended by immigration authorities.
HHS officials said they could not comment on specific cases to protect the privacy and security of the unaccompanied children.
We tracked the flight history of one of the planes using its tail number. From December 20 to December 23, the plane flew from Laredo, TX to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and back three times before flying to El Paso and making its way up to AVP on December 25. Recently, similar flights have landed in Erie, PA.
According to the Department of State, 97 refugees had arrived in Pennsylvania in October and November of this year.
We learned there are a number of refugee resettlement agencies across the country that work with the federal government to help refugees.
There are 11 of these agencies in Pennsylvania. We’ve reached out to the ones closest to the airport and are waiting for a response.