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Feds arrest airport workers in raids
Ashcroft's scapegoats

By Eduardo Capulong and Nicole Colson | May 3, 2002 | Page 2

THE FEDERAL government stepped up its attack on immigrants last week with raids on workers at three major airports in the Washington, D.C., area.

More than 140 people--including food service workers, baggage screeners and custodians--were arrested in the roundup. Most were charged with relatively minor infractions, such as supplying false Social Security numbers or failing to disclose prior felony convictions on job applications.

But John Ashcroft's fanatical Justice Department hyped these "crimes" into shadowy threats to national security. "To those who would do us harm, the message is this: Our vigilance is steadfast," Ashcroft snarled. "What this investigation uncovered should be a wakeup call to every airport in America."

What a crock. "This is a sweep of workers under the excuse of 'national security' that the government is using to clean up 'undesirable people' from the airports and the ports," Daz Lamparas, an organizer with SEIU Local 790 in San Francisco, told Socialist Worker. "These are hard-working people who, unluckily, have some convictions from many years ago."

The Bush White House is targeting immigrant airport workers because they're an easy scapegoat. Signed into law by Bush last November, the Aviation Transporation Security Act requires that all airport baggage screeners be U.S. citizens by November 19, 2002. In the Bay Area, where more than 80 percent of screeners are legal immigrants, this will mean hundreds of workers will lose their jobs.

It's also a direct attack on the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has vastly improved the wages and working conditions of both immigrant and nonimmigrant baggage screeners at airports in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago and several other cities. Under the new law, screeners will be "at-will" employees--and therefore barred from being in a union.

In the Bay Area, SEIU members and other labor activists are standing up to this assault. As Lamparas puts it, this issue will be decided by activism. "I think demonstrations, rallies and public education are very important, because there's so much anti-immigrant hysteria after 9/11," he told Socialist Worker. "That's why every week we have demonstrations here...We have to continue the fight--not just legislatively."

Last week, more than 1,000 people--including 100 screeners--attended a town hall meeting organized by the Bay Area Organizing Committee (BAOC) to defend immigrant workers' rights and oppose the new law.

The size of the turnout showed wide opposition to racist scapegoating. Unfortunately, BAOC's five-point proposal put forward at the meeting is deeply flawed. It takes no issue with the anti-immigrant racism of the new law, accepts the inevitability of layoffs, and asks that priority in hiring go to U.S. citizens.

At a meeting the following day, the Immigrant Airport Workers Solidarity Committee, a coalition of labor and activist groups, challenged the BAOC proposal, insisting on the elimination of the U.S. citizenship requirement and vowing to oppose layoffs.

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