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American Airlines: Don't use us to transport kids separated from their families

Last Updated Jun 20, 2018 1:14 PM EDT

(CBS NEWS) -- American Airlines, now ensnared in the billowing controversy over the U.S. policy of separating families at the border, said in a statement Wednesday that it has "requested the federal government to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy."

"We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it," the airline said. "We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so."

The airline issued the statement amid questions over whether it has transported children split from their loved ones. It acknowledged that it provides travel services to the U.S. government through contracts, but said it has "no knowledge that the federal government has used American to transport children who have been separated from their parents due to the recent immigration policy" and "would be extremely disappointed to learn that is the case."

"The family separation process that has been widely publicized is not at all aligned with the values of American Airlines -- we bring families together, not apart," the airline said.

It also said "the government does not disclose information about the nature of the flights it takes or the passengers who are traveling."

The airline released the statement after a recent Facebook post claimed that sixteen children were "dressed as criminals" when they traveled on a recent flight from Arizona to Florida. The Facebook post described "16 scared little souls" who arrived in Miami last week, "not knowing if they will ever see their loved ones again that they were separated from in Phoenix." CBS has been unable to confirm circumstances described in the post. The Facebook user who posted it claimed to be a friend of a flight attendant whose coworker initially wrote about the incident.

The Arizona Republic reported that the flight mentioned in the post was likely an American Airlines flight due to various factors, including departure time.

In an earlier statement, American said it was "asked about transporting undocumented children" and "aware of the narrative that is circulating online." 

"We have no way to substantiate the report at this time but would be disappointed to learn that our airline was being used to separate families," it added. 

CBS News reached out to United and Delta.

"At United Airlines, we have been concerned about reports that commercial airlines have been used to transport immigrant children separated from their parents by a newly implemented immigration enforcement policy," said a statement from United CEO Oscar Munoz. "Based on some research we have done internally and public reports, we have not seen evidence these children have been flown on United aircraft." 

"Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it's in deep conflict with our company's values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents," the statement said. "Our company's shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world. This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it."

Additional reporting by CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave

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