Some ex-offenders, immigrants may fail background check, lose jobs
Nine thousand Oakland port workers will have to enroll next month in a new identification program required by the Department of Homeland Security to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the Port of Oakland.Thanks to 2002 legislation, any worker who requires access to secured areas of regulated ports will need background checks and biometric identification cards.
“The concern is of terrorists working at the port who could be potential threats,” said R. Michael O’Brien, facility security officer for the Port of Oakland. “This program is for anyone who requires unescorted access to a regulated maritime facility.”
However, he conceded, some people who are already working in a secured area of the port may they lose their jobs trying to qualify for this new kind of identification procedure if they are here illegally or have been convicted of certain crimes. It’s not known, however, how many workers could lose their positions.
The Transportation Security Administration is overseeing the program and the security card, known as the TWIC, or Transportation Worker’s Identification Certificate.
The card will have the worker’s fingerprint and iris biometrics scanned into it. When a worker approaches the entrance to the port, he presents his TWIC rather than a driver’s license as he currently does. An agent with a hand-held reader will check the card.
However, when the TWIC card will go in effect is up in the air. The TSA is looking at enrolling 700,000 people nationwide and producing and distributing cards for them. Furthermore, it still doesn’t have the hand-held readers necessary to check the cards at the port’s entrance.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez refused to speculate when all these events would come together.
The TSA estimated that 9,000 Oakland workers, including longshoremen, truck drivers, contractors and consultants, vendors, and otherport and terminal employees, need access to secured areas of the port.
The enrollment process is being rolled out across the country and has begun in Wilmington, Del., and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Oakland will begin enrollment in mid-November; however, no date or location has been announced. There will be at least four enrollment sites in Oakland as well as sites in San Francisco.
To be eligible for a TWIC, an applicant must be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Various immigrant categories with unrestricted work authorizations and certain professionals with restricted work authorizations can apply. For a complete list of categories, visit http://www.TSA.gov/TWIC.
The big question mark is the impact on the port’s immigrant workers, who might be here illegally. Richard Coyle, president of Devine Intermodal of West Sacramento, which retains independent contractors as truck drivers, is concerned. Devine Intermodal uses outside services to check its truck drivers’ immigration status, he said.
“Although we do a thorough job of screening drivers, you just don’t know what will kick out until the TWIC program takes effect. A large percentage (of) drivers are immigrants,” he said.
Like O’Brien, Coyle does not know how many people might be harmed by TWIC in the Bay Area.
“There’s tremendous fear in Southern California. It’s been rumored that 22 percent of drivers in Southern California will not pass” the TWIC criteria, he said.
Workers with criminal backgrounds will be vetted. Permanently disqualified are persons who have been convicted of espionage, sedition, treason or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes. Also, persons convicted of terrorism or a crime involving a transportation security incident will be permanently disqualified.
However, certain crimes, such as extortion, immigration violations, rape and arson disqualify felons only for up to seven years after conviction or five years after release from incarceration.
However Coyle noted, as an employer, he’s happy to give someone a second chance.
“If someone has a blemish on his record from the time he was 18 years old and now he’s 40 years old and has family, sure I’m going to give him a chance,” the trucking company executive said.
The port facility security officer O’Brien conceded that it was possible “current employees may not qualify under the TWIC program. We don’t know the statistics of that. But I think people are looking forward to TWIC because that would ensure them that they were in a more secure working environment.”
At a recent public meeting by the TSA, questions from the audience betrayed mostly the public’s concerns about the security of the personal information individuals will be sharing with Lockheed Martin and Deloitte & Touche, which will be administering the enrollment.
Greg Fisher, the TSA’s lead transportation security specialist for maritime and surface credentialing, assured that all personal data would be stored on secure servers and no paper files would be kept.
Once enrollment dates and sites are announced, one can pre-enroll by visiting the TSA’s Web site or calling 1-866-DHS-TWIC. Deloitte & Touche representative Andy Linderman said pre-enrollment would shave five to 15 minutes off the ultimate enrollment time and allow individuals to make an appointment to enroll at a time convenient for them.
Applicants must present specific documents in order to apply, and information about them is on the TSA Web site. The procedure costs $132.50. Some employers may subsidize part or all of this cost.