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Carolina Catering sues over Puerto Rico airport employment eligibility

Carolina Catering Corp. has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Aerostar Airport Holdings LLC, and Roberto Jiménez-Soto, seeking a court order and ruling on the use of expired permanent-resident cards as a form of employment authorization and identification at Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. 

In a 19-page complaint, Carolina Catering, an in-flight catering service at LMM, questions the practice that deems individuals with expired permanent-resident cards as ineligible for employment at the airport.

The complaint calls for a judicial declaration to determine whether an expired Permanent Resident Card is sufficient for employment authorization and identification at the airport, citing potential implications for national security and civil rights. 

The company claims it asked for clarity on the matter but that “neither the [Transportation Security Administration (TSA)] nor Aerostar answered the inquiry presented by Carolina Catering.”

The lawsuit refers to the TSA as the agency within Homeland Security responsible for security measures at airports.

It also requests a mandamus order directing DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Aerostar, which operates the airport, to enforce a policy that either validates or nullifies the use of expired permanent-resident cards for airport employment and access to secure areas.

The legal action stems from cases where Carolina Catering had to terminate or deny employment due to expired permanent resident cards, raising concerns over discrimination and compliance with TSA and Aerostar security regulations. 

The lawsuit highlights the complexities of airport security, employment authorization for noncitizens, and the roles of federal agencies and private entities in regulating airport operations and worker eligibility.

Lawsuit over lawsuit
Linked to this lawsuit is an incident involving former employee Jiménez-Soto, who was terminated after his Permanent Resident Card expired. He sued Carolina Catering for discrimination based on his national origin or social condition, alleging he was perceived and treated as an undocumented immigrant because his Permanent Resident Card was deemed invalid due to its expiration.

The Puerto Rico lower courts initially ruled in favor of Jiménez-Soto, finding he was discriminated against. However, on Jan. 26, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the lower court’s decision. 

This related case in Puerto Rican courts, Roberto Jiménez Soto v. Carolina Catering Corp., Civil No. CA2020-CV-00700, is significant because it challenges the interpretation of immigration and employment laws within the context of airport operations.

The federal case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Gina R. Mendez-Miro.

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