Of about 28,000 people employed in airport security nationally, almost a fourth are non-citizens. But with the new airport security law passed by Congress, this could change radically, and all 7,000 could abruptly lose their jobs.

The rationale is that non-citizens may not be “loyal” to the United States and therefore cannot be trusted with security-related jobs. Even the Democratic Party’s version of the same bill requires the firing of all naturalized citizens who have not held their U.S. citizenship for at least five years.

Of course, the whole idea of targeting non-citizens is to take the public’s attention away from the many real problems of airport security. The pay from privatized airport security jobs is outrageously low, the training minimum and the turnover is unacceptably high. But all this was swept under the rug by Congress. When in doubt, bash the immigrants.

The non-citizen security personnel are strongly protesting both this sudden blow to their families’ survival and the insulting judgment it implies. The Service Employees International Union, which represents many of them, has also weighed in with a call for supplementary legislation to allow them to keep their jobs. This is an effort that should be supported, and not only because the sudden firing of one- fourth of the airport workers and their replacement with inexperienced, untrained newcomers is not going to enhance airport security, but the reverse.

The fact is that there is not a smidgen of evidence that non-citizens are less efficient or responsible workers than citizens. As far as the issue of their being a “security risk,” there is no evidence of that either, just the assumption that only “real Americans” (like Timothy McVeigh, perhaps?) are the only ones to be trusted with such things. Why should we assume that more foreigners than U.S. citizens are capable of mass murder?

The attack on immigrants – and by extension, “foreigners” – is a natural outgrowth of the whole “spin” the Bush administration has put on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and its desire to use these events as a pretext for military action. Otherwise, the American people might have been more receptive to Cuban President Fidel Castro’s calls for prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity by an international tribunal rather than a war in Afghanistan.

Many of the non-citizen airport workers who are now to be thrown into the street without an income are Mexican or Central American, and numerous Mexicans and Central Americans were killed on Sept. 11.

Another argument is that non-citizen workers might be tempted to take bribes to allow people with weapons beyond security checkpoints. Where is the evidence for this implicit stance? And by the way: Why has Attorney General John Ashcroft been so determined not to allow security agencies to examine the files of those who have purchased handguns in the search for potential terrorists?

Simply put, the issue of the citizenship of airport workers is nothing more than crass ethnic prejudice and jingoistic nationalism, and we should handle it as such.

Emile Schepers is a reader in Illinois.