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Four US airlines refuse to carry separated migrant children

Greyhound also caught in the fray by allowing Border Control to conduct checks on its buses

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American Airlines is among carriers which asked the government not to use their flights to transport separated children.

New York

FOUR major US airlines have asked the federal government not to use their flights to transport migrant children who have been separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration's policy on illegal immigration.

American Airlines Group Inc, United Continental Holdings Inc and Frontier Airlines issued statements on Wednesday before US President Donald Trump backed down from the policy and signed an executive order to end the immediate separation of families detained at the US-Mexico border for entering the country illegally.

"The family separation process that has been widely publicised is not at all aligned with the values of American Airlines - we bring families together, not apart," the company said.

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United chief executive officer Oscar Munoz said in a statement that the policy which has led to family separations is "in deep conflict with our company's values".

"We have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents," he added.

Frontier said in a Twitter post that it "prides itself on being a family airline, and we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families".

The airlines' statements were part of a growing wave of backlash in the United States and abroad against the Trump administration for its "zero tolerance" policy announced in April. Images of youngsters in cages and audiotape of wailing children were broadcast worldwide.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) criticised the airlines' decisions, saying in a statement that it was "unfortunate" that carriers "no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the travelling public".

Delta Air Lines Inc and Southwest Airlines Co issued statements after Mr Trump signed the order.

"We do not wish to have involvement in the process of separating children from their parents. Therefore, we appeal to anyone making those types of travel decisions not to utilise Southwest Airlines," the company said.

Delta praised the Trump administration for abandoning the policy. "Recent reports of families being separated are disheartening, and do not align with Delta's core values," Delta spokesman Michael Thomas said. "We applaud the administration's executive order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the US border."

Meanwhile, as Border Patrol searches its buses, Greyhound has been pulled into the immigration uproar. It is between the rows of seats on Greyhound buses and at stations across the country - that America's policies and fraught divisions over immigration are also playing out. The private bus line said that it is caught in the middle of an ugly issue beyond its control.

But legislators and justice groups argued that by allowing Border Patrol to conduct the immigration checks, Greyhound exposes its passengers to violations of their constitutional rights to be free from racial profiling, harassment and warrantless searches and seizures.

They said that it is up to Greyhound - which serves 18 million passengers yearly across 3,800 destinations - and other massive transportation companies to pick a side. Others predicted that Greyhound's reputation could take a hit at a time when customers expect businesses to take a stand in social and political debates.

"They haven't made a choice, they're just letting Border Patrol do this - and that's not neutral," said Chris Rickerd, policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) national political advocacy department. "If they wanted formally to consent, they can say, 'we consent.' What we think they should do is put their customer interests first and say, 'we don't consent unless there is probable cause or a warrant.'"

The debate places Greyhound in the national uproar over the Trump administration's immigration policies, including DHS's practice of separating migrant families when they cross the border.

Greyhound said that it is required to comply with the law by allowing Border Patrol agents to board buses when they ask to do so. A spokeswoman, Lanesha Gipson, said that the company does not "support or coordinate these searches, nor are we happy about them". She acknowledged that searches negatively affect customers. She said that Greyhound was also worried about the risk that it puts drivers in.

"We have started conversations with the Border Patrol to determine if there is anything that can be done to balance the enforcement of federal law with the dignity and privacy of our valued customers," she said.

Ms Gipson cited a series of laws with which, she said, Greyhound must comply when it comes to immigration checks on buses. They include the statutory provision saying that any immigration officer has the power to board buses and search for undocumented riders without a warrant "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States" to prevent unlawful entry.

The federal government defines a "reasonable distance" as 100 air miles from the US's external borders, land or maritime. According to the ACLU, Border Patrol's claimed authority to board a bus or train without a warrant within that zone encompasses two-thirds of the US population (about 200 million people), most of the country's 10 largest cities and some entire states.

The ACLU and legislators argued that the law only authorises agents to search for undocumented immigrants on buses so long as those agents comply with the Constitution, which has priority over any congressional statute. Doing so, according to a Supreme Court case cited by the ACLU and members of Congress, requires Border Patrol to either have probable cause for a search or have Greyhound's explicit consent to board and search. REUTERS, WP

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