March 26, 2020 / 6:37 PM / 13 days ago

ICE deportation planes begin to ship stranded U.S. citizens home

FILE PHOTO: A protective mask, which is widely used as a preventive measure against the coronavirus (COVID-19), is pictured on a table world globe in this illustration taken March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Alexey Pavlishak/File Photo

(Reuters) - Planes used by the U.S. government to deport Central American nationals will bring back U.S. citizens in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as coronavirus travel restrictions reduce commercial flights.

The U.S. State Department is tracking 50,000 Americans abroad it said might seek help to return to the United States, straining the department’s resources as it seeks to arrange travel around the spread of the coronavirus.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), working with the State Department, repatriated 64 U.S. citizens on an ICE Air Operations plane from Honduras on the return journey from a deportation flight on Tuesday, ICE said in a statement.

“ICE will continue to work with the State Department to facilitate the safe return of U.S. citizens on future removal flight returns from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ICE said in a statement.

The initiative may be expanded beyond those three countries, the statement said.

Additional reporting by Washington Bureau; Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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