David Vitter’s Deportation Proposal Could Require More Planes Than There Are on Earth


David Vitter has had it with undocumented immigrants. “Enough is enough,” the Republican Senator and Louisiana gubernatorial candidate tweeted on Friday. “I introduced a bill to require mandatory detention for anyone here illegally & get illegal aliens on the next plane home.”

The legislation Vitter introduced Friday doesn’t actually require all immigrants to be detained and deported. It mostly applies to child migrants, 70,000 of whom will make their way to the United States from Central America this year. Specifically, unaccompanied minors without asylum claims would be put “on the next available flight to their home countries within 72 hours of an initial screening.”

But if we really tried to do what Vitter’s tweet suggests—and why not? He’s a senator!—it would entail increasing the nation’s immigration detention capacity by a factor of 365. And flying all those immigrants home would require more planes than currently exist.

The math is simple. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are 11 million people currently in the United States without permanent legal status, the bulk of them from Latin America. In 2011, the average flight to that region had room for 171.8 passengers. It would require 64,027 flights to move all those migrants. Unfortunately, there were only 7,185 commercial aircraft in the United States as of 2011, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, so the mass deportations might take a while, especially considering Tegucigalpa’s Toncontín International Airport boasts “the world’s trickiest landing.”

Even if other nations chipped in, it’d still be a tough row to hoe. According to Boeing, there are only 20,310 commercial airliners in the world, although that figure is set to double by 2032, if we want to wait. 

These back-of-the-envelope calculations don’t take into account other details, like the costs and logistics of finding and rounding up 11 million people. On the plus side, the amount of jet fuel required for Vitter’s plan would be a boon for the oil and gas industry—one of Louisiana’s largest employers.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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