Amazing Aviation

How many Americans woke this morning in a food-, alcohol-, and triptophan-induced stupor, found their furniture abnormally arranged, saw strange substances in their kitchens, and thought there had been another attack? The morning after Thanksgiving is rarely as much fun as the day before, especially if one has to go to work.

Yesterday was fun at our place. Among other things, we got to meet four new neighbors, one only nine months old. Two of the others were not born in the United States.

As a matter of fact, more than 40% of the people at our big Thanksgiving dinner yesterday were not born in the U.S. So, unless our constitution is amended, none of them can become president. Oh, well. One of our non-native-born Thanksgiving dinner guests yesterday is married to the winner of a U.S. presidential award.

President of the United States is the only job of which I’m aware that requires someone to have been born here. Two of our secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, were born elsewhere. So was General John Shalikashvili, the former head of our joint chiefs of staff. He taught himself English by watching John Wayne movies.

At least two of our non-native-born guests yesterday are also not U.S. citizens. I don’t know about the others because I didn’t ask. Citizenship is not a prerequisite for admission to our Thanksgiving dinner.

Citizenship is not a prerequisite for a lot of jobs in the U.S. It’s a common joke about New York that none of our taxi drivers speak English. Immigrants traditionally start in low-paying jobs. But citizenship is not a requirement even for higher-paying jobs.

To become an American Airlines pilot or mechanic, one need be only a “U.S. citizen or alien with legal right to accept employment in the U.S.” To join the U.S. military one needs to be “A U.S. citizen or registered alien.” Believe it or not, “our” troops are not necessarily citizens of our country.

At the Federal Aviation Administration, an executive order in 1998 theoretically banned aliens from becoming newly hired air traffic controllers. “Certain groups of noncitizens, however, are not included in this ban.” It’s also okay to hire them if there’s a shortage of qualified applicants or in an emergency. And controllers hired before 1998 got to keep their jobs even if they weren’t citizens.

If the city’s web site can be believed, one need not be a citizen to get a job as a San Mateo police officer. San Mateo is closer to San Francisco International Airport than is San Francisco itself. There are 1,200 security screeners who work at that airport.

Michael Moss reported in the New York Times today what different experts in the aviation security business thought about the people who made good screeners. “The ideal recruit for the United States’ newest national-security force, one expert says, might be an older widow with a knack for finding things lost in a cluttered room. It might be a younger man who likes building model airplanes. Or, as one airport security chief has found, it might be an emotionally scarred young woman who never learned to tell time but has an uncanny ability to concentrate.” None of the experts mentioned citizenship.

One of the long-time screeners at San Francisco International Airport is Romulo Raval. He fought alongside our troops in the Philippines in World War II. But he is not a U.S. citizen. Under the terms of the new airport-security law, he must lose his job. He’s not alone.

Some 80% of the security screeners at San Francisco International Airport are not U.S. citizens. They are considering walking off their jobs on Sunday, one of the year’s heaviest travel days, effectively shutting down the airport. According to Dan Lamparas of the Service Employees International Union (which opposes the walkout), “They have nothing to lose anyway because they will be laid off in the next three to six months.”

The pilots who fly the planes don’t have to be citizens. The mechanics who maintain the planes don’t have to be citizens. The baggage handlers who fill the holds of the planes don’t have to be citizens. The armed National Guard troops standing in the airport don’t have to be citizens. Some of the air traffic controllers guiding the planes through clouds don’t have to be citizens. But security screeners do.

According to Jono Shaffer, another representative of the union (this time in Los Angeles), “The idea that citizenship equals trustworthiness is just wrongheaded. The people who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building were U.S. citizens. They could have qualified to be screeners, but someone who’s been on the job for 17 years and who has a kid who may be a veteran, can’t.”

Why wouldn’t someone become a citizen? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the test. Do you know how many amendments there are to the constitution? Can you name the original 13 colonies? Can you list the freedoms in the bill of rights? Can you name all of the countries that were our enemies in World War II? Those are all sample questions from the Immigration and Naturalization Service web site. I don’t know what the answers have to do with being a good security screener.

Henry Kissinger became a naturalized U.S. citizen as soon as he was able to do so, but that’s not true of all famous Americans who weren’t born here. Wernher von Braun headed NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Before that, he worked on the development of our nuclear missles.

He was born in Germany, where he developed the V-2 rockets that killed civilians in London in World War II. In 1945, he came to Delaware. In 1947, he married. In 1948, he had a daughter. But he didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 1955. He was not a citizen while he was working on our most dangerous weapons.

Today, at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, outside the security area, a man tried to show a check-in employee that a rifle he was sending as baggage wasn’t loaded. The weapon fired a bullet through a window. No charges were filed against the hunter, and he boarded a later flight.

TTFN, Mark