LOS ANGELES - A federal district judge has sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a coalition of civil rights groups by ruling that their constitutional challenge to the government's exclusion of qualified non-citizen baggage screeners from eligibility for federal screener posts may go forward. Non-citizens - including legal permanent residents and United States nationals - were categorically barred from new federal screener posts as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, even though no such requirement exists for members of the U.S. military, airline pilots, baggage handlers, flight attendants, cargo loaders, mechanics, guards, airplane cleaners and members of the National Guard. The ACLU/SC, together with other civil rights groups, filed suit on behalf of nine airline screeners at LAX and SFO airports who have been excluded from consideration for the new posts.
'This is an historic victory,' said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU/SC. 'All we are asking is that these people be given the opportunity to apply to keep their jobs. This is an issue of simple fairness. How can we send non-citizens to fight in our armed forces, but tell them they are not welcome to work in our airports? This ruling demonstrates that the United States can wage a war on terrorism without making our civil liberties the first casualty.'
Many screener positions throughout the country were held by legal U.S. residents. At San Francisco International airport, 80% of the screeners were non-citizens at the time the suit was filed in January of 2002.
'This is not simply a question of civil rights, but of public safety,' said Ben Wizner, staff attorney at the ACLU/SC. 'It doesn't makes sense to prohibit our airports from hiring the most experienced and tested screeners, regardless of citizenship. One of the plaintiffs in this case has been a screener for fourteen years. We think she should be able to apply for a federal screener job on the same basis as everyone else.'
Efforts to amend the citizenship requirement have stalled in the United States Congress.
The plaintiffs in the case have filed for a preliminary injunction that would compel the Transportation Security Administration to consider non-citizens for the new screener posts. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, November 15, 2002 at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.