Seventy to eighty people gathered in tents outside Oakland airport Tuesday to protest a provision in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that requires airport security screeners to be U.S. citizens. Organizers predicted that 4,500 workers will lose their jobs in the Bay Area, 400 of them at Oakland airport, and the majority of them Filipino.
“This is part of an anti-immigrant wave,” said Kawal Ulanday, a spokesperson for Filipinos for Affirmative Action, who sponsored the event.
He said that American citizenship is unnecessary to perform a screener’s job. The government, he said, is fanning the patriotism that swept the country after September 11. “They are trying to create a climate in which all immigrants are suspicious.”
In effect as of Tuesday, the act requires that federal security screeners replace private security checkers gradually over the year. It nationalizes airport security entirely by November 19th.
Because federal employment requires U.S. citizenship, non-citizen screeners, even if legal immigrants, could soon start receiving pink slips, according to Ulanday.
Ulanday coordinated the Oakland rally with similar protests at San Francisco International and San Jose airports in support of Filipino and other immigrant workers. He said that the new law renders immigrants ineligible for the 28,000 new federal security jobs created by the ATWA, and will affect 15 to 20% of screeners nationwide, and as many as 90% of the screeners at SFO.
Many of the Oakland screeners have had their jobs for a long time, some as many as ten years, according to Ulanday, and have the experience and competency to retain them.
Ideally, he would like the new law repealed, but as that is unlikely, he would like to see the current screeners receive the necessary training by the Department of Transportation to bring them up to the new security standards and qualify them for the higher pay.
The new jobs will start at $20,000 to $30,000 a year, according to Jim Mitchell, a spokesperson at the Department of Transportation.
They now pay, $7.00 to $11.75 an hour.
Mitchell said that the law is not designed to keep immigrants from federal jobs, but to create a professional security force and a consistent security system. He hopes that the experienced screeners, once they have their citizenship, will apply for the new jobs created by the airport security act.
“There are a lot of good screeners out there,” said Mitchell. “We want the best ones to stay with us because they have the experience and probably have a lot of good ideas we could use.”
The citizenship requirement for federal employment is the law, he said, and it is the most practical way to run background checks on potential employees. It’s more difficult to screen applicants that are not U.S. citizens, he said.