Operation Tarmac Targets Airport Workers

Revolutionary Worker #1173, November 3, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"My name is Juana Jimenez. I was arrested in my own home the 22nd of August by four federal agents. I was asleep when they came. My 18-year-old daughter opened the door, and when I woke up they were standing by my bed. It was like a bad dream when I saw them. I kept shouting, `I didn't do anything!' They didn't give me time for anything. I didn't have any clothes on. I told my daughter to tell them to go out while I put my clothes on. They just turned around while I got dressed."

The immigration agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) told Juana Jimenez not to move, and they handcuffed her. Juana's daughter was scared and distraught, asking the agents what was going on. They told her nothing.

Juana Jimenez works at Los Angeles International Airport, LAX. She's a food service worker with 21 years on the job, and a legal resident of the U.S. Her husband found out from the news on Spanish- language TV that the U.S. government had launched a police operation against airport workers in southern California. He feared that Juana might be caught up in the dragnet and began to search for her. Fortunately, he was able to track her down in INS custody. She was released 30 hours later, after posting $10,000 bail. The charges against her were later dropped, and she was eventually able to get her airport job back.

The nightmare that Juana Jimenez woke to on August 22 was called Operation Tarmac. In the name of "homeland security," the U.S. government has been targeting thousands of people who work unseen or unnoticed preparing in-flight meals for airlines, cooking the food served at airports, and cleaning the floors and bathrooms of the airports around the country. Many of these workers are immigrants.

About a year ago, the INS started to comb through the applications of 750,000 airport workers in the U.S., looking for any little thing they could find to go after the workers--like irregularities with their IDs or social security numbers. INS agents launched raids on airports all over the U.S., including Washington, DC, Baltimore, Phoenix, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, NC. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called the raids "a wake-up call for every airport in America."

The INS labeled people without proper documents "security risks." They claimed the workers had access to "secured areas"--though if you look at an airport today, it's hard to find an place that's not a secured area. In Las Vegas, five of the arrested worked in an airport parking lot.

"Most of these workers [arrested in Operation Tarmac] were undocumented workers," Angélica Salas, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA), told the RW . "And some of them weren't even undocumented. They were permanent residents. They went in and arrested individuals who were working in `secure areas' with false or fictitious social security numbers. They arrested them, even though some of them had been working in these `secure areas' for over 20 years. This was really an immigration raid like they used to do in the '70s and before--but now they're doing it under the cover of `national security.' Operation Tarmac equals an immigration raid in 2002, on a mass scale."

Instead of facing immigration or deportation proceedings, workers who are arrested in Operation Tarmac are being charged with federal felonies. There have been well over 1,000 arrests at airports since Operation Tarmac began. In southern California, about 100 people have been arrested, and 85 have been hit with charges related to their work applications. The government has since reduced most of the charges against workers to misdemeanors.

Many Latinos and others reacted with anger and outrage at these police-state tactics. On October 15, chants of "Justice! Justice!" rang out at LAX as over 300 protesters, mostly Latino, demonstrated against Operation Tarmac. Several workers targeted by Operation Tarmac came forward to denounce the raids. A worker from John Wayne International in Orange County described how he was called into the manager's office and found himself face-to-face with a squad of federal cops. Silvia Acevedo told how she was separated from her infant daughter, who is still breast feeding. Union officials, immigration rights advocates, and ministers spoke to the press and condemned the attacks on immigrants.

Since September 11, 2001, immigrants have been under intense attack. Many Arab, Muslim, and South Asian immigrants in particular have been detained in secret, tried in secret, and deported in secret. There have also been increasing attacks on Latino immigrants. In March 2002, there were immigration raids targeting Latino passengers at LAX. The clampdown and militarization on the southern border of the U.S. has intensified, leading to a record number of deaths of people trying to cross in desert areas. In October the bodies of 14 immigrants were found in a railroad boxcar in Iowa. They had boarded the boxcar not in Mexico but on the U.S. side, in an attempt to cross the second "border"--the system of INS checkpoints that extends up to 100 miles north from the border.

Denouncing her treatment at the hands of U.S. government agents, Juana Jimenez had a message for those behind Operation Tarmac: "I want to tell them to stop all this terrorism, to stop this fear they have created for all Latinos."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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