SAN FRANCISCO — Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta touted the administration’s advances in aviation and transportation security Friday, while outside, airport workers and their supporters lambasted the federal government’s requirement that airport baggage screeners be U.S. citizens.
“Citizenship has nothing to do with the job,” said Erlinda Valencia, a legal immigrant who has been in the United States for 14 years and is in the process of getting her citizenship. “What we need are experienced screeners who know the job.”
Mineta said he could do nothing to change the law.
“What we have done is to develop a program with the (Immigration and Naturalization Service) to inform people how to expedite their applications for citizenship,” he said, speaking at a Commonwealth Club of California luncheon.
San Francisco city supervisor Gerardo Sandoval spoke to the small group of protesters gathered in front of the hotel where Mineta gave his speech, pledging to do all he could to help the screeners.
“What we have here is not a war on terrorism anymore, it’s a war on immigrants,” Sandoval said.
Up to 1,000 airport workers at the San Francisco Bay area’s three main airports — the San Francisco International Airport, the Oakland International Airport and the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport — could be affected by the new rule, said Daz Lamparas, a representative of the Service Employees International Union, local chapter 790.
The union had a petition with more than 3,000 signatures on it asking Mineta to waive the citizenship requirement. Mineta did not meet with the protesters.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has proposed a bill that would have the same requirements for airport security screeners as for U.S. military recruits, who currently are not required to be U.S. citizens.
Mineta also spoke about the advances made in security in aviation and other modes of transportation, pointing out that more sky marshals have been hired and that new federal employees have been sworn in to oversee security at seven airports. Mineta said he would select a federal security director for San Francisco International Airport in the next two weeks.
Mineta also said that industry leaders from across the country, including the service sector and high tech, were helping the government try to figure out ways to keep travelers moving while doing better checks of passengers
“I can assure you, we are building a transportation security system that will defeat efforts of people who seek to use our system against us,” he said.