Law could cost airport screeners their jobs
MINNEAPOLIS -- Wagari Iticha is worried he might be out of a job come November.
But it won't be because the checkpoint supervisor at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is doing a bad job. It will be because the Ethiopian-born screener isn't a U.S. citizen, and a new law will prevent him from working.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, signed into law just before Thanksgiving, makes citizenship a condition of employment. That means the estimated 25 percent of the nation's 28,000 airport security screeners who do not have U.S. citizenship will be out of jobs.
The newly created Transportation Security Administration has until November to replace screeners at more than 400 commercial airports with federal employees.
"There are a lot of people who are not citizens who are doing a good job. We are the forgotten people because we are not citizens," said Iticha, 38, who has worked as a screener for two years. "I consider America my country. What is my fate?"
Iticha supports government oversight of airport security, but he would prefer that the federal government evaluate applicants on their background, work performance and skills.
Globe Aviation Services contracts with Northwest Airlines to run security checkpoints at the airport's Lindbergh Terminal. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Globe to determine how many airport employees do not have U.S. citizenship were unsuccessful.
Since the terrorist attacks, Globe has boosted its security staff to about 380 employees at the Lindbergh Terminal, said Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch.
Of the 62 employees who work for International Total Services, which runs the security checkpoints at the Humphrey Terminal, six are noncitizens, said ITS general manager Joe Dawson.
Some labor unions, immigrant organizations and some politicians are trying to raise awareness of the law's effect and get the citizenship requirement amended or repealed.
"These workers are allowed to serve in the military as legal residents," said Andy McDonald of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 2,000 screeners in California. "Now they're being told they can't check bags at the airport.
"When it comes to ensuring safety of people who fly in this country, the citizenship requirement is going to prevent some of the best-trained workers from staying on the job. Security has to come first, and citizenship is irrelevant to that," McDonald said.