(Bloomberg) -- The federal government recently brought U.S. citizens home from Central America with planes used to deport migrants as it faces pressure to aid citizens stranded abroad due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Wednesday it flew 209 Americans back on the return legs of two separate flights earlier this week to Honduras and El Salvador. The planes flew to the region with migrants being deported, ICE said.
Using re-purposed deportation planes is one of several ways the State Department is attempting to retrieve Americans unable to return home due to worldwide border closures and travel restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus. The measures have resulted in steep cuts to the number of international commercial flights to the U.S. The government is also using charter flights.
Typically, deportation planes fly back empty to the U.S., a senior Department of Homeland Security official told reporters on Tuesday. Deported migrants receive medical screenings before boarding the flights and those with temperatures over 100.4 degrees are not allowed to fly, the official said.
The State Department said Tuesday that is has already repatriated more than 9,000 Americans from 28 countries since the outbreak emerged. That includes more than 1,000 citizens who were stranded in Morocco and about 800 from Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged.
Roughly 13,500 Americans abroad have requested help in returning to the U.S., The New York Times reported on Tuesday citing anonymous State Department officials.
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