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Government flights carrying unaccompanied children land in Luzerne County

Four such flights have landed recently at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

AVOCA, Pa. — The federal Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the agency has flown planes carrying unaccompanied children to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. 

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said in 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.”

Congressman Matt Cartwright tells Newswatch 16 that four planes carrying unaccompanied children landed in Luzerne County this month.

Rep. Cartwright says those planes were bound for other airports in Pennsylvania and New York but were sent to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport because of staffing issues at the other airports.

The congressman says the children were then bussed to other areas of the country to stay with family or in approved foster homes.

Rep. Cartwright says the federal government has flown children to airports across the country for several years to alleviate crowding at the southern US border.

Here is Rep. Cartwright's full statement:

"These are legitimate concerns and we’ve been looking into it. We know that during the last two administrations, federal agencies have responded to overcrowding issues by relocating unaccompanied children to the custody of properly screened family members, host sponsors, and charitable institutions."

According to information on the web site for the Department of Health and Human Services, 2,340 unaccompanied children have been sent to Pennsylvania between October of 2020 and October of 2021.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, chartered the flights to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. An ICE official now says the agency did not charter the flights.

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