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Immigrants Working in US Airports: Casualties of US War Hysteria

By staff

San Francisco, CA – Hundreds of Filipinos and immigrant families were joined by labor activists and many more supporters at the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports on Feb. 19. They staged multiple press conferences in protest of new legislation requiring all airport screeners to be U.S. citizens. The actions coincided with the Feb. 19 federal takeover of the nation's airports. The demands for airport screener justice and for the safety for passengers served to expose the truth behind the recently enacted Aviation Security Act and the upcoming mass job losses for mostly Filipino immigrant airport screeners.

Nov. 19, 2001, the Aviation Security Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President. The Aviation law imposes citizenship requirements for airport screeners. There are over a thousand Filipinos who are airport screeners nationwide; a large percentage are green card holders, and not yet citizens. In international airports such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, New York and Oakland, Filipinos comprise up to 90% of the workforce. This new legislation would result in the racial and ethnic “cleansing” of Filipinos by mass firing and lay-offs. Already, two Filipino airport screeners, Marina Neri at the Oakland airport and Romy Pappas at the San Jose airport, have been suspended because of their stance against the new legislation.

Filipinos comprise a large percentage of airport screening positions. Our largely immigrant community has historically filled low-wage jobs in this country. Like the manongs and manangs [Filipino immigrants who came before World War II – editors] who worked the fields for meager pay, airport screeners have suffered deplorable working conditions, with low salaries (e.g. $7.50 per hour), no benefits, staff shortages, and inadequate training. The job requires workers to stand for hours on end and to face aggravated customers who are always rushing and late for flights. A job, historically, nobody else wanted to do.

What exactly is the underlying meaning and message of this new aviation law? Is the U.S. government saying that Filipinos are not smart enough to do federal screening? Are they implying that Filipino immigrants, who are not citizens, cannot be trusted? The new aviation law is supposed to professionalize the screeners' position to ensure the safety of passengers. However, far from ensuring the security of travelers, the new law eliminates hundreds of legal immigrants who have held these positions for years, leaving a brand new workforce of screeners without experience. This law is another brazen example of immigrant scapegoating and racial profiling that has become fashionable with the post-September 11 U.S. war hysteria.

Ironically, pilots, aircraft mechanics, and even the armed National Guard soldiers posted in the airports are not required to be citizens.

History of Racist Discrimination

For Filipinos, racist discrimination is nothing new.

Filipinos did not have to be U.S. citizens to be enlisted and die in World War II under U.S. military command. While Filipinos died in battle side-by-side with white American soldiers, Filipinos received a fraction of the veterans' benefits given to white soldiers. In 1946, the Rescission Act deemed Filipino veterans ineligible for benefits. For the last 12 years, legislation to provide benefits has been stalled in the House and Senate, although the two bills ask for only $60 million. Two veterans die a day, waiting for equity. This is a racial injustice, which has not been corrected and sticks out as a sore thumb of America's legacy of racism and national chauvinism.

We call for an end to U.S. military intervention in the Philippines. We must remain vigilant against all forms of racial injustice targeted towards our community. The new Aviation Security Act is only the most recent example of racism and immigrant scapegoating against Filipinos and all people of color.

For more information, please call Terry Valen of the Philip Vera Cruz Justice Project at 415-820-1557.

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