Airport Security

How should screeners be screened?

Erlinda Valencia has done a good job during her fourteen years as a security screener at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). During one particularly active two-week period in 2000, she alerted authorities to the presence of a loaded handgun in one carryon bag and a hand grenade in another. For these and other actions, the former teacher from the Philippines has received numerous commendations from her employers and the airport. Yet under a new federal law-meant to improve airport security-Valencia is likely to lose her job.

Along with 60 percent of her 1,200 colleagues at SFO and 25 percent of the nation’s 28,000 privately employed airport security screeners, Valencia is a legal permanent resident but not yet a citizen of the United States. Under the post-September 11 Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which replaces private security firms with a federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at most airports, immigrant screeners must become U.S. citizens by November 19 at the latest. That’s when TSA control is supposed to be phased in at all U.S. airports. "I love this job," says Valencia. But unless something gives (or the federalization process takes longer than Congress mandated), Valencia and 720 others could lose their jobs at SFO when TSA takes over. This is true even though SFO will be one of five airports in the nation where TSA will supervise a private screening company under a...

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About the Author

James B. Goodno reports on labor, politics, and urban affairs from California. He has covered airport issues for San Mateo Labor and KQED-TV’s "This Week in Northern California."