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Labor Day Special, Part 2, Immigrant Workers: 100 Airport Workers Are Arrested in Los Angeles; Hundreds of Thousands Flee Malaysian Crackdown

September 02, 2002

In the Los Angeles area some 100 airport workers were arrested in government raids in August. Most of them were immigrants. Government officials said the workers had used false IDs and lied about their immigration status to obtain security clearances.

Nationwide, some 350 airport workers have been arrested in similar sweeps since Sept. 11.

The arrests come as part of Operation Tarmac, an initiative of the INS and Social Security Administration to review the immigration records of 200,000 workers at about 100 airports.

Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, permanent residents of all nationalities who are currently employed as airport screeners will soon be summarily fired from their jobs and barred from reapplying as screeners, presumptively treated as security risks by virtue of their lawful non-citizenship status.

The crackdown is affecting immigrant workers regardless of their skill, experience, and dedication.

During a two-week stint in 2000, Erlinda Valencia spotted a loaded handgun and a disarmed novelty hand grenade in bags passing through the screening machine she operates in the domestic terminal at the San Francisco International Airport. That month she earned her security firm’s top screener award. Despite her 14 years of experience, she could lose her position if she does not get citizenship before November.

Meanwhile, there is a much, much larger crackdown on immigrants in Malaysia right now.

Indonesian health officials are reporting that thousands of workers expelled from Malaysia in a crackdown on immigrants are suffering from respiratory diseases and other ailments after being sent to a remote border camp with little clean water and poor sanitary conditions.

Protesters in the Philippines burned pictures of the Malaysian leader after reports that several Filipino children had died after being held in the overcrowded detention centers in Malaysia.

Malaysia began enforcing tough new measures last month against illegal migrant workers, including caning and hefty fines. Malaysia is one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous countries. The mainstream Western news media is reporting over 300,000 migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia have fled or been expelled. Human rights workers say over a million and a half have fled. Filipino news sources are also reporting that as many as 3,000 homes of Filipinos have also been burned down.

Malaysia temporarily halted the controversial program over the weekend.

Today Philippine officials traveled to Malaysia to seek the repatriation of the deportees.


  • Erlinda Valencia, Baggage screener at San Francisco Airport.
  • Lilianne Fan, Amnesty International.
  • Saskia Sassen, author of "Guests and Aliens" and Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago.

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