Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dozens Of Illegal Immigrant Flight School Students Arrested

Federal officials have arrested dozens of alleged illegal immigrants connected to a flight school in Stow, Mass. including the school’s owner and students who received US government clearance to train as pilots despite strict security controls put into place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The arrests of 34 Brazilian nationals that began in July and concluded quietly last month raise troubling new questions about possible holes in the government’s anti-terrorism security net, which bans illegal immigrants from taking flight lessons and requires background checks on any foreigner training to fly in the United States.

No link to terrorism has been found in connection with the Stow flight school, TJ Aviation Flight Academy at Minute Man Air Field, 30 miles northwest of Boston, US immigration officials said.

All the arrested immigrants, who were learning to fly small single-engine planes, are free pending deportation hearings in federal immigration court, immigration officials said.

But the episode may have exposed problems in the Transportation Security Administration’s ability to make sure the only foreign students allowed to attend flight school are, as its website states, “properly checked, legal aliens.’’

That mandate stems from a 2004 order that TSA check all foreign flight students against terrorism, criminal and immigration databases after authorities discovered that several of the men who hijacked the airplanes used in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had received flight training in the United States.

TSA has faced questions before about its effectiveness in carrying out the order. In 2008 ABC News reported that thousands of foreign nationals were obtaining pilot’s licenses without the proper paperwork.