TSA, “the Illegals” and Why Mention of Project Mayhem Makes Me Giggle

My local headlines were all a-fluffered about the recent discoveryof  Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole (ohl-oo-moo-YEE’-wah oh-YEH’-woh-leh), an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who has been punching a clock at Newark International Airport for over two decades now.

According the New York Times, the real Jerry Thomas was shot to death in July 1992 in front of the Y on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens. No one was arrested for the murder, the Times reports, citing the Queen’s district attorney’s office. The AP reports that New York Police have not indicated whether or not Oyewole is a suspect in Thomas’ death. Acting on an anonymous tip, authorities arrested Oyewole, 54, at his home in Elizabeth, N.J., on Monday on charges that he stole Thomas’ identity. On Monday afternoon, he was being held at the Essex County Jail, awaiting his arraignment. The Times reports that Oyewole allegedly used Thomas’ birth certificate, Social Security card and other documents, and that it was unclear how he managed to obtain them.

Its really unfortunate that the Transit Security Agency has all that money and information available to them yet has NO IDEA of how Bimbo obtained a dead man’s identification. If they needed help, they could have easily called me in on the case. I spent a few months working at Newark Airport in the pre-911 days so I’m privy to the type of hurdles it took for Bimbo to pull a fast one.

Obtaining a job within an airport is a pain in the ass, in what is a theoretical  deep cavity search, each person seeking a job is provided with a phone book sized set of applications to maneuver. Faced with pages upon pages of applications, often which has to be done in triplicate in order to provide all of the governing agencies with a copy of the ‘verification’ documents, many people never make it past that point.

United States Customs, NY/NJ Port Authority and the private contractor hiring the person initially will all be provided with copies of this application and the required identification, often a passport, a birth certificate, or some other form of letter from a government agency. The airport jobs are fancy titled manual labor gigs that pay a little better than fast food checks, working for a private contractor may mean an employee can obtain health insurance.

I was the first person hired to work for a private contractor. I wasn’t trained, nor was my background check or drug test done immediately. I spent the first few weeks enjoying the free paycheck while the manager who hired me complimented me often, treated me to lunch on his American Express card as he informed me how much I remind him of olive complexioned dark haired Greek wife. We got along quite well  until he resigned three weeks after hiring me, leaving me to figure out how to perform background checks and drug test all by myself .

One supervisor remained. He and I took notes as we worked through the piles of papers. We questioned other employees in other companies on how they had managed to get approval.  Some people were kind enough to provide me with hand written ‘you didn’t get this from me’ instructions that were vague and loopy, it took weeks for us to figure out what the two agencies requirements were to get approval for hologram id’s that were required of each person who set foot on airport property.

If you can’t get a hologram id, you can’t work. If you misplace it twice, you can never work at an airport again. Neither the Port Authority or United States Customs would answer our questions regarding their qualifications. They would reject our paperwork over and over again without any justification or instructions on how to correct and re-submit each application. I spent days on the phone before we even ran our first ad seeking to hire at least 100 people. I was warned to not push the customer service workers too hard when calling the Port Authority or Customs, it was rumored that pissing off a service worker at either agency would ensure that your company’s employee applications for identifications will go missing or routinely get rejected.

I received my hologram 8 weeks after being hired, employee number two, the supervisor received his a day after I was approved for my own. I wrote out a process and procedure that would allow us to move through these applicants efficiently. We finally had a plan. By the time we moved into the actual office space located on the airport grounds, I had already been into each and every high level security nook and cranny simply by standing next to my former boss’s high level security pass as he went where he wanted on the airport. We would speed around the tarmac, preferring to drive through the airport rather than around it using Newark/Elizabeth city streets. Everyone was on a first name basis, the airport is a whole world of its own behind the scenes, I took note that the highest level security clearance badges belonged to the those who cleaned the planes.

The labyrinth of corridors, doors contained in false walls, and hallways was very interesting to me. I noted the white key pad that sat affixed next to the places used to gain access, not only was the hologram an identification card to be kept visible around each person’s neck, it is a key card. We can the ad in the Star Ledger and waited, by day two I was so swamped with phone calls, questions, applicants, requests for pens and people walking in and out of the temporary office that I was ready to quit. Once a few more people got hired to assist me, I only focused on getting the people approved so that we could be set to work on our launch date.

I began to notice that American born citizen applicants were rejected with more frequency than were the non-American born applicants. There was to be no gaps in time longer than 30 days between each original document displaying where that person was at that point in time, ten years back. My application caused me to have to return to my high school to get an original copy of my ATTENDANCE RECORDS and a trip to welfare to prove I was collecting for a few months after giving birth to my daughter at 17 (I had her summer of my Junior to Senior year in high school…see what they did right there?)

The type of background information requested and the exclusion of certain gaps in time caused many American born applicants to give up trying. Being pregnant didn’t prove your identity, but an original letter from your doctor that personally identifies you as a patient during that point in time would suffice. Which is fine if you go to a private doctor and not to a clinic where the staff don’t give out letters of person knowledge to the clients they tend to. Your income tax records don’t suffice. Your diploma isn’t sufficient proof you attended school during that point in time. Nothing made much sense.

The one thing I found peculiar was that almost every foreign born applicant would return to me with their application meticulously done, every page signed and every box checked. I reviewed applications all day long, the process was tedious because it was a lot of paperwork and it was easy to neglect to fill in something or to not fill out something waiting to ask for more clarity.

I noticed that some of the men were illiterate, yet the question that asked if someone assisted them with filling out the documents were left blank. I turned a blind eye because I understood, the additional person would have to provide identity information as well as the job applicant.

The non-American born applicants also ALWAYS had all their required identification documents in perfect condition where the American applicants would pull tattered social security cards out of well worn wallets. Maybe the immigrant population is neater, I don’t know. I just know that nearly every person had a brand new, often dated days prior original document, a few times the applicants insisted what they offered me was sufficient even if the document was unfamiliar to me thus far, and it would be approved. To put it simply, the immigrant workers that sought jobs through me at Newark Airport always got approved by the mysterious Customs/Port Authority Gods.

Very nice people, often husbands and wives working two and three jobs at the airport while trying to raise families of children, if not parents, siblings and others. Original letters of identification that were accepted from international former employers were always presented to me dated and highlighting to show exactly 10 years of ‘outstanding, efficient and high character expectations of work performance’. Almost the same blurb, but who am I to question these things..?

I would make a point of speaking to each of them, asking where they were from, and about their lives aside from their tossing luggage or invisibly ushering clueless international passengers through corridors to taxi cabs. If I was late for work, I only had to cut through, under and behind false walls as other airport personnel waved hello to me , or covered for me by making sure the coast was clear as I dashed, or allowed me to gain access to places I didn’t know existed through use of their key cards and years of airport knowledge.

One day my new boss, the ignorant ass white man/boy who had a title, made a comment about one of the employees. The employee, a Nigerian man the shade of an old penny had intricate slices that created an embroidered design across each of his high boned cheeks. I would openly stare at him boldly going beneath his beautifully shaped round head and his thin wire glasses. Pointing to my own face, I patted my cheek and pointed to his face and tried to convey to him how much I found those markings to be intriguing.

He was kind enough to let me touch his face, as I traced my finger along the scars of his face, I murmured ‘beautiful’. His English wasn’t too good and my Nigerian even worse or maybe he was just quiet, or maybe I was overstepping common courtesy but he explained them to mean ‘something’ in his country, ‘something’ about tribe and family. I knew those scars held some significance but I also wanted to be respectful of him and his culture. I didn’t press him for further details. “He must have really pissed someone off. Who cut his face up like that?!” white man/boy said. The look I shot him let him know he said something stupid.

I did my best to explain the meaning of the tribal cuts, to which he laughed and said, “African’s can’t get it right for nothing. How stupid do you have to be to have everyone kick your country’s ass and not fight back? How can cutting your face make you important?” Days later I witnessed this white man stand in front of that black man and openly tease him about those cuts on his face. I was nausiated and angered and I wondered…if he was in Nigeria would he be able to show the white man what those scars are really all about? Indeed, how stupid do you have to be…..?