On November 15, a federal judge handed nine airport screeners an unexpected victory in their legal battle against a law passed in the wake of September 11 that required citizenship for all airport screeners. But while the judge’s action temporarily kept the law from affecting the nine plaintiffs, it did not force the government to reinstate more than 8,000 immigrant screeners who lost their jobs because of the requirement.
Ruling in the case of Gebin v. Mineta, District Judge Robert Takasugi of Los Angeles issued a preliminary injunction against the government, blocking it from enforcing the citizenship requirement pending final resolution of the case. “Plaintiffs have…sufficiently alleged a constitutional deprivation to warrant a finding of irreparable harm,” Takasugi said.
The Department of Justice issued a statement that defended the citizenship requirement and clarified the limits of Takasugi’s ruling. “Congress took this approach after determining that airport screeners were on the front line in the war on terrorism. The injunction does not apply nationwide, but only to the plaintiffs in the case,” said the statement. Throughout the case, federal attorneys argued that the citizenship requirement fell within Congress’ immigration and foreign affairs powers.
Plaintiffs are considering the option to expand Gebin v. Mineta into a nationwide class-action suit, according to ACLU attorney Ben Wizner.
The chances of the case making it past an appellate court remain slim, says Alex Aleinikoff, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and former general council for the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton Administration. In matters dealing with immigration and national security, appellate courts have tended to favor Congress and the executive branch, making it likely that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will be “quite deferential to Congress’s view that the citizenship requirement is an important qualification,” according to Aleinikoff.