Federal officials have arrested dozens of alleged illegal immigrants connected to a flight school in Stow, Ma., including the school's owner and students who received U.S. government clearance to train as pilots despite strict security controls put into place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, reports the Boston Globe. The arrests of 34 Brazilian nationals raise troubling new questions about possible holes in the government's antiterrorism security net, which bans illegal immigrants from taking flight lessons and requires background checks on any foreigner training to fly in the U.S.
No link to terrorism has been found in connection with TJ Aviation Flight Academy at Minute Man Air Field, 30 miles northwest of Boston, U.S. 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. 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 “properly checked, legal aliens.'' Since 2004, TSA has been directed to 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.