It took an entire year of layoffs and the short changing of thousands of immigrants for the government to finally note the unconstitutionality of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA). A year in which nine noncitizens were fired and forced to file a lawsuit against Los Angeles International airport and San Francisco International airport.
U.S. District judge Robert Takasugi has finally taken a step toward reviving immigrant rights, by temporarily blocking the ATSA which requires all airport security screeners be U.S. citizens. But, his decision is only a preliminary one. So, we are still faced with an act which degrades community rights.
Before the act, thousands of noncitizens worked this high stress sector with low wages and no benefits. Outwardly targeting immigrants, the act planned to hire 28,000 American citizens as replacements. The new employees would earn $35,000 a year and would obtain full benefits. These changes were enacted only when noncitizen weren’t allowed to apply. But when it was a majority of noncitizens who were affected, the government had no trouble turning its cheek at the expense of causing bag checkers to be stressed, overworked and undermined.
Roughly a quarter of all airport screeners were permanent residents and not citizens when the ATSA was passed. At San Francisco international airport, 80 percent of bag checkers were non-citizens. Yet, this made little difference to Congress and the Bush administration who failed to note that the changes proposed by the ATSA would impair the security measures of SFO at a time when they boasted one of the best airport security records.
By immediately replacing workers with seniority with new employees, the administration readily enacted that which they wanted to avoid: a system of inadequately trained checkers who hinder airport safety by increasing security risks.
Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California, said to the press, “Taking qualified, experienced screeners off the job because of their citizenship status won’t make anyone safer.” He added, “As senseless as it is discriminatory and demeaning, the citizenship requirement for screeners is an illusory diversion from needed reforms to correct inadequate background checks, low pay, and poor training.”
Unfortunately for workers who were fired, even their attempts to gain U.S. citizenship were shadowed. While their petition is being processed, immigrants who decide to apply for citizenship forfeit the right to petition for their family to immigrate to the states.
Ironically, this requirement only exists in terms of airport baggage screeners. Somehow, officials overlooked the fact that most other airport positions doesn’t require such ridiculous standards. Pilots, baggage handlers, cargo loaders and stewardess positions are open to noncitizen. Even the U.S. military has noncitizens in its ranks. In fact, today, the National Guard employs 50,000 personnel all of whom are noncitizen.
Jeimy Gebin, who is suing SFO told the Los Angeles Times, “It doesn’t make sense that I can serve my country in the Army but not work in an airport as a screener. If I get fired because of this new law, I could enroll in the National Guard and be back in the airport two weeks later, standing behind the screeners holding a rifle. I believe this law won’t make anyone safer, but it will hurt a lot of good, hard-working people.”
Although the decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi should be applauded, it is only a small step in the rights of all immigrants. We have to remember that it has been one year; One year of lost wages, and one year of continual slabs to immigrant rights as a whole.