LOS ANGELES — Nine airport security screeners who could lose their jobs under a new federal law that says only U.S. citizens can work as screeners filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging it is unconstitutional and discriminatory.
In what lawyers called the first such case in the nation, the screeners are suing Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and John Magaw, the undersecretary of transportation for security, who are responsible for carrying out the new airport security law.
About 20 percent of the nation’s 28,000 screeners are not citizens.
A provision of the law discriminates against non-citizens and compromises airport security by eliminating experienced screeners, said Ben Wizner of the ACLU of Southern California, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Transportation security administration spokesman Hank Price said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.
The new law affects the many immigrants who work in low-paying screening jobs, said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 2,000 screeners in California and several other states.
“When I learned about this law, I was deeply hurt,” said plaintiff Vicente Crisologo, who has worked at San Francisco International Airport in screening, security and customer service for more than two years.
“I wonder if our honorable senators and congressmen have forgotten that once upon a time their ancestors or their forefathers were once immigrants, too.”
Crisologo, a permanent legal resident, came to the United States from the Philippines about three years ago to be closer to his son and two grandchildren. The former pharmaceutical company sales manager won’t be eligible to apply for citizenship for another two years.
The citizenship requirements will be felt keenly at San Francisco airport, where about 80 percent of its 800 screeners are not citizens, and at Los Angeles International Airport, where an estimated 40 percent of the 1,000 screeners are non-citizens.
About 70 percent of screeners at Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports are not citizens, and more than 80 percent of screeners at Sacramento and Dulles airports are not citizens, according to the complaint, filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
The citizenship requirements are unfair, Medina said, noting that they don’t apply to others at the airport, including National Guards, pilots, flight attendants and mechanics.
Associated Press Minority Issues Writer Deborah Kong contributed to this report.