The Department of Homeland Security has authorized so many thousands of immigrants to fly from foreign airports into undisclosed American ones in the past year that identifying the airports by name would enable “bad actors” to find security vulnerabilities and compromise public safety, government attorneys have alleged in arguments for withholding airport locations.

The government’s claim that its little-known immigrant-flight program has created law airport security vulnerabilities comes in response to a Center for Immigration Studies lawsuit seeking data about the program, including the names of foreign departure airports and of receiving U.S. airports. 

Data from the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit shows that more than 320,000 immigrants from October 2022 through December 2023 were authorized to fly into 43 U.S. airports after applying for “humanitarian parole” on the mobile phone “CBP One” app.

The CBP One flights program at the center of the FOIA litigation is perhaps the most enigmatic of the Biden administration’s uses of the CBP One cell phone scheduling app, even though it is responsible for almost invisibly importing by air 320,000 immigrants into the United States since late 2022. It remains part of the administration’s “lawful pathways” strategy, with its purpose being to reduce the number of illegal border entries between ports of entry. The countries whose citizens are eligible are Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia and Ecuador.

All of these nationalities can be authorized to fly in, at their own expense, if they can show they have a relative or non-family financial sponsor (which can even be “an organization, business, or other entity”) and meet other requirements, such as owning a valid passport and passing security checks based on biometric information provided through the CBP One app.

Upon receiving authorization from Washington, they buy air passage to U.S. international airports, where CBP personnel process them for release in short order.

Many large immigrant-receiving cities and media have been putting the blame for immigrant influxes on Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing program. This airport location information would almost certainly provide a more accurate and complete picture of what is happening. As a result, it would undermine the administration’s policy of blaming the surge of migrants into blue cities on Abbott.

Whatever the numbers the federal government is clearly contributing to the direct-flights authorization program.

Department of Justice attorneys have steadfastly refused to name the U.S. airports receiving these expedited migrant arrivals, which would allow a more accurate tally of the federally authorized immigration. They cite a law enforcement FOIA loophole known as Exception (b)(7)(E).

The government attorneys told CIS in email communications and summarized in a CIS Joint Status Filingthat they applied the law enforcement exception on the grounds that identifying airports of entry “would, either standing alone or combined with other information, reveal operational vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors altering their patterns of conduct, adopting new methods of operation, and taking other countermeasures thereby undermining CBP’s law enforcement efforts to secure the United States borders.”

One interpretation of the government’s explanation is that, due to the high volume of immigrants flying in, the administration’s program has stretched resources so much it is compromising airport security.

The agency’s attorneys floated a similar argument for withholding the locations of foreign departure airports, adding that “bad actors” abroad who found out about the “resources expended toward travelers arriving from particular airports” could “extrapolate” from the numbers leaving foreign airports to identify the receiving U.S. airports and then undermine law enforcement’s ability to secure the border (which includes international airports).

The government attorneys provided no information as to how this increased immigrant air traffic had created “operational vulnerabilities,” although the government attorneys likely will have future opportunities to argue their case before a federal judge.

Colin M. Farnsworth, CIS’s chief FOIA counsel, said the center rejects the government’s explanation about bad actors exploiting “operational vulnerabilities” at airports because CBP pre-screens and pre-schedules the arrival of CBP One applicants at each port of entry. He said CIS will litigate for a total release of the airport information.