In a shocking blow for Chicago O’Hare’s reputation, federal and local law enforcement officials arrested 24 illegal workers they suspect were using fake security badges to work in restricted areas of the O’Hare airport. The badges were actually real, but deactivated O’Hare ID cards, and police are at a loss to explain how workers still managed to gain access to sensitive areas with the non-functioning cards. Police also apprehended two managers at Ideal Staffing Solutions, Inc., the temp agency that hired illegal immigrants knowingly and provided them with the false IDs, which gave them access to purportedly secure areas around O’Hare. Most of the workers loaded freight for companies doing business with O’Hare– including commercial airlines.
One specific incident involved Ideal Staffing Solutions manager Norinye Benitez, who allegedly presented a box of 20 ID cards to a worker, instructing him to choose a card with a photograph that most closely resembled himself. Federal agents had enlisted that worker to help them prove that the badges could be used to access sensitive areas of the airport. He ended up using the card to access a United Airlines cargo area. Now, Benitez, who is also in the United States illegally, faces up to 10 years in prison for harboring illegal immigrants and misusing a Social Security number. A police report found that of 120 applications for airport badges submitted by Ideal, 110 of the individuals used false or stolen Social Security numbers.
Aside from the terrifying knowledge that any one of these people had access to cargo that would be directly transferred onto commercial jets, this story reminds us that airport security doesn’t stop with passengers. It’s up to the airlines to make sure that all of their employees are who they say they are– and have up-to-date ID badges. We can only hope that this was a freak occurence and not the norm.