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FAA allows Fox News drone to document border surge after flight restriction draws criticism

Border crossing, immigration
Migrants cross the border near Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021. |

Following criticism, the Federal Aviation Administration said it will allow Fox News to fly a drone in the airspace above Del Rio International Bridge in Texas, exempting the news outlet from temporary flight restrictions. 

Fox News has used the drone to document the surge of illegal immigration in the border town of Del Rio at the southern border with Mexico.

On Friday, the FAA tweeted that Fox News "has received clearance to operate from now until the end of September in the restricted airspace."

Bill Melugin, a Fox News correspondent who has covered the situation at the border extensively, confirmed that “FAA has cleared @FoxNews to fly our drones in the restricted airspace around the international bridge in Del Rio.”

On Thursday, Melugin tweeted that the FAA had implemented two-week temporary flight restrictions over the International Bridge in Del Rio for a "special security reason." 

The restrictions, which had the temporary effect of blocking the Fox News drone from entering the airspace above the Del Rio International Bridge, sparked outrage and allegations of censorship by the Biden administration.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” Thursday night from Del Rio, alleging that partisan motives played a role in the FAA’s decision to issue temporary flight restrictions.

“The drone footage started this morning, and people across the country were horrified," Cruz said. "And I guess the political operatives at the Biden White House saw that and decided the last thing they want is Fox News actually reporting on what’s happening down here.” 

The FAA said in a statement that the Border Patrol "requested the temporary flight restriction due to drones interfering with law enforcement flights on the border."

"As with any temporary flight restriction, media is able to call the FAA to make requests to operate in the area," the statement assured. 

Meluguin told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Thursday that the news network had been at the border for the "better part of seven months now."

"We’ve been using the drone the entire time," he said. "It’s never been an issue. All of a sudden, the last 24 hours, we start showing these images at this bridge, and a TFR goes up."

Melugin maintained that the agents on the ground are “completely overwhelmed” and “need some serious help right now.” Through his coverage, Melugin has provided updates on the number of migrants who are living under the bridge in Del Rio. 

As of his most recent update, posted Friday morning, “there are now at least 10,500 migrants underneath the international bridge, with more coming by the hour.” Melugin also reported that “intel is up to more than 10,000 coming.” 

The surge of migrants in Del Rio comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 208,887 encounters between law enforcement officials and illegal immigrants at the southwest border in August.

While the number of encounters dropped slightly from July to August, more than 1.5 million people have crossed the border illegally in the fiscal year 2021, with the fiscal year 2022 set to begin on Oct. 1. 

Critics of the Biden administration attribute the astronomical number of border crossings to the reversal of Trump-era policies designed to curb illegal immigration. 

“On Sept. 8, the Biden administration made a political decision. They announced that they were no longer going to fly deportation flights back to Haiti," Cruz said in a statement. "Eighty-five percent of the people under [the bridge] are from Haiti.”

The senator contended that the policy change encouraged a wave of migration.

“There were about 900 Haitians who were getting ready to board the flights when the political operatives in Washington canceled the flights," Cruz said. "Well, what happened? Those 900 people, they all pulled out their cell phones, and they emailed their friends, and they emailed their families, and they texted their friends and their families.”

Cruz recalled how earlier in the year, when he toured a migrant detention facility in Donna, Texas, “they wouldn’t allow Fox News to come in.”

The senator noted that this forced him “to go in with my cell phone and photograph and take videos” of the overcrowded conditions caused by the border surge.

As he tried to document the conditions in the Donna facility, a woman he identified as a “senior advisor” to the Biden administration stood in front of the camera and attempted to block him from capturing the footage. At the time, Cruz concluded that the woman “was instructed to ask us not to have any pictures taken here … because the political leadership at [the Department of Homeland Security] does not want the American people to know it.”

Every poll aggregated by RealClear Politics since the end of June has shown Biden’s approval rating on the issue of immigration underwater or tied.

Currently, the RealClear Politics average of polls asking voters to assess Biden’s performance on immigration finds that 56% of Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue, while 37.3% say they approve.

By contrast, the current RealClear Politics average measures his overall approval rating at 45.3% and disapproval rating at 49.8%.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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