ACLU and Union Challenge New Citizenship Requirement for Airport Screeners

January 17, 2002 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – A new federal law requiring airport screeners to be U.S. citizens is unconstitutional and discriminatory, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and nine screeners from two major California airports.

“Taking qualified, experienced screeners off the job because of their citizenship status won’t make anyone safer,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “By eliminating thousands of skilled, qualified, and experienced screeners solely on the basis of their citizenship status, and replacing those workers with people who have no on-the-job training or experience, we are opening the door to unnecessary security risks at our airports.”

Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, enacted last November, thousands of trained, experienced workers will be terminated no later than November 19, 2002. The ACLU and SEIU filed the lawsuit on behalf of screeners at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) who could lose their jobs.

The citizenship requirement would bar legal immigrants from working as airport screeners even though no such requirement exists for members of the U.S. military, airline pilots, baggage handlers, flight attendants, cargo loaders, mechanics, guards, and plane cleaners, the ACLU noted in its lawsuit.

At SFO, where non-citizens comprise 80 percent of the screener workforce, screeners themselves advocated for higher security standards, improved background checks, and more rigorous employment qualifications for screeners, resulting in one of the nation’s best records of airport security.

“”I was very upset when I heard that non-U.S. citizens would be fired from the job,”” said Jeimy Gebin, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit and a legal U.S. resident who took a job as a screener at LAX after serving in the U.S. Army for three years. “”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.””

“”Americans want security, not scapegoating,”” said Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of SEIU, the nation’s largest union of immigrant workers. “”Experienced, qualified, taxpaying immigrant screeners are part of the solution, not part of the problem. They should be allowed to remain on the job.””

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, names Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and John Magaw, the undersecretary of transportation for security as defendants.

For more information on the case, including the legal complaint, client statements and a statement from a former airport official, go to

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