On July 23, the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security approved by voice vote, and moved to the full committee for consideration, H.R. 3102, the Airport Access Control Security Improvement Act of 2015. The bill, which would revise portions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, was approved with only one technical amendment, introduced by the author of the bill, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).
According to an April Washington Post article, the Transportation Security Administration had already begun tightening up access control card rules after some embarrassing disclosures, including that a felon was improperly granted pre-check limited screening status to go through airport security controls, and that an airline baggage handler had been an integral part of a gun-running ring using the airlines to move weapons from one city to another. They did this by increasing random inspections of personnel, without regulatory changes, and it would seem that Rep. Katko, among others, was not satisfied with this approach — especially after the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) issued a June report saying worker vetting still needed improvement.
H.R. 3102 would tighten up the conditions for granting airport access control cards to individuals authorized to work around or behind the secured sterile areas of the airport:
- It would establish a "risk-based, intelligence-driven model" for screening employees before granting them access control cards, based on the required level of access and employee position.
- Federal regulations regarding disqualifying criminal offenses (mostly, but not exclusively, felonies) would be reviewed and revised, probably by adding offenses to the existing list.
- It would mandate use of E-Verify to ensure that only individuals who are lawfully authorized to work receive any kind of airport credentialing.
These sound like good things, don't they? But after pondering this for some time, I ask myself whether they go far enough. My concern is that it appears that pretty much anyone who has no criminal record and is entitled to work fits into the "qualified" category. If that's true, then, even illegal aliens granted "DACA" benefits (which include work permits) can gain employment at an airport and be given an access control card — despite having no right to even be in the United States but for the president's specious and constitutionally dubious executive order. This is true because they will come up as work-eligible (courtesy of the employment authorization documents) in E-Verify. And they are not the only ones. Aliens granted parole into the United States could also work at airports and be granted access control cards, provided they obtain employment authorization, because they, too, will zip past the E-Verify gateway. In fact, it's not out of the realm of possibility that under Section 274B of the Immigration and Nationality Act, such an alien could potentially sue for discrimination if not granted employment and access.
The point about parolees working at airports is particularly relevant if some of the media reports prove true that the president intends to unilaterally exercise immigration parole authority to permit entry to thousands of Syrians now flooding across Europe's borders (despite the clear statutory language that parole is only to be used on a case-by-case basis).
Can you imagine the opening this presents to undetected security threats? Ditch your real identity documents in Hungary, pick up some new ones and a different identity and nationality in Austria, register with a refugee agency, get paroled into the United States, and then go to work at an airport, all within the span of a few months.
It's hard to believe in our post-9/11 environment that the rules for working at an airport are so loosey-goosey where immigration status is concerned. After all, it was 19 out-of-status foreign hijackers that precipitated the Homeland Security Act to begin with.
Now I'll be the first to admit I'm no aviation security expert. There may be something I've missed in my search of the law and regulations trying to ferret out the rules concerning immigration status, airport employment, and access control cards. I'm sure hoping I have, because the alternative is unthinkable.