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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 39.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Danger in our midst
Feds peg UW grad as possible airport security menace
Webb is having a hard time proving her immigration status: 'I'm not an
Emily Webb is having a hard time proving her immigration status: 'I'm not an immigrant!'
Credit:Mary Langenfeld

Emily Webb probably wouldn't strike anybody as a threat to national security - except, perhaps, the people charged with protecting the nation's security.

Now 23, Webb has spent most of her life in Wisconsin, going to elementary school in Baraboo and middle and high school in Ozaukee County. She came to Madison to attend the UW, graduating with a degree in psychology. The only thing that comes up on her in a search of online court records is a speeding ticket.

Since last fall, Webb has worked for Wisconsin Aviation at the Dane County Regional Airport, as a "grunt worker," fueling planes and such. She's been confined to the airport's east side, which Wisconsin Aviation rents for private planes and programs. To cross over to the west side, where the airlines are, she needs an ID badge issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Usually when somebody applies for TSA clearance, they send in the papers and hear back in about a week," says Webb. She sent in her application early this year, and didn't hear back until late March. That's when she got the TSA's "Initial Determination of Threat Assessment."

The verdict: denied.

"You did not meet the immigration/citizenship requirements," the agency wrote. "TSA has been unable to verify your immigration/citizenship status in the United States from the information you provided."

The TSA's letter invited Webb to submit evidence of her immigration/citizenship status, like a Permanent Resident Card or Naturalization Certificate. That's a problem, because Webb doesn't have these documents.

The reason? "I'm not an immigrant!"

Webb was born to military parents on an Air Force base in Germany; she is and always has been a U.S. citizen. "My Social Security number was on the application - what more proof can I give them?"

Elio Montenegro, a TSA spokesman in Chicago, says it's "not unusual" for the agency to request additional information. "There has to be something - a birth certificate or something - she needs to submit."

Officials at Wisconsin Aviation, including president Jeff Baum, did not respond to interview requests. Webb says her supervisor laughed about the TSA's letter, saying it was the first application he'd seen be rejected. She laughed at first, too.

But now she's starting to worry how she'll be affected. "I won't lose my job," she says. "But I won't be able to move forward. I'll be restricted to the east side of the airport for the entirety of my employment."

Webb is still weighing her options, wondering how to respond. "Somebody must have screwed up something," she says. Unfortunately for her, she now has to find someone in the government willing to admit it.

Benevolent Christians

The Ecumenical Housing Corp. has won its battle against 103-year-old longtime resident Lucy Nehrenz ("Who Would Jesus Evict?," 3/21/08). On April 4, a Dane County court commissioner granted the church-affiliated housing provider's move to evict her, saying it was within its rights to not renew her annual lease. Nehrenz has until the end of the month to move out.

"They never really did give a reason for wanting to evict her," says Nehrenz's attorney, Tim Tierney, who suspects the agency was concerned about her age and disability. "It's just a shame in my opinion that she's being forced out. She moved in [18 years ago] thinking it was going to be her last residence."

A case in which the Ecumenical Housing Corp. has filed an eviction notice and monetary demand against an 82-year-old resident who it felt should not have left ("Church Group Goes After Another Little Old Lady," 4/4/08) is still pending.

Recently, the group also took former resident June Wright to small claims court, seeking $842 on top of keeping her $706 security deposit for "damages" and "cleaning." On Jan. 31, Court Commissioner Patricia Crowe dismissed the case and ordered the Ecumenical Housing Corp. to return Wright's security deposit.

"I think the group totally lacks compassion and is just trying to get extra money out of people who leave," says Ruth Nichols, Wright's daughter.

That's ironic, because, according to Rich Eggleston, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities, the Ecumenical Housing Corp. has secured tax-exempt status, which for housing providers is not automatic.

"You know how they get tax-exempt?" he asks. "They declare themselves benevolent!"

Blame the messenger

Sometimes, the reason people send anonymous letters is that they don't know what they're talking about.

Take the correspondent who wanted to blow the whistle on county Clerk of Courts Carlo Esqueda, who "decided he wasn't getting enough money" from offenders on his office's electronic monitoring program. "So now he charges $20/day ($600 month) for Dane County cases and $23/day ($690/month) for 'out-of-county' cases!!"

The letter writer continues, "Talk about oppressing 'the little guy'.... You'd think our clerk of courts worked for the oil companies."

It's true the fees have risen, from $12 and $15 a day respectively. But it was not Esqueda's idea. These higher fees were mandated by an ordinance amendment passed by the Dane County Board on Jan. 17. Esqueda argued against this, pointing to a state statute he believes gives judges the authority to set this fee.

The ordinance amendment set the same higher fees for participants in the separate electronic monitoring program run by the Sheriff's Office. Esqueda favors a fee structure "that makes sense given the costs of the program and the savings it creates" by keeping people out of jail. Right now, he thinks his office is "charging more than it costs."

Esqueda says judges are now working with his office to determine an appropriate fee structure. He wishes the County Board "hadn't created legislative language for my program," and would like to see it removed. "In the meantime, it's my position that the language in the ordinance as it pertains to my [monitoring] program is unenforceable."

Collateral damage

Connect the dots: The Capital Times decides to cease daily publication and cut staff. Columnist Doug Moe, stunned that he must reapply for his job, bolts to the jointly owned Wisconsin State Journal ("Moe Better Blues," 3/7/08). To make room, the State Journal axes columnists Melanie Conklin and Susan Lampert Smith. Smith, winner of last year's Milwaukee Press Club award for best columnist in Wisconsin (this year's winner: the guy who writes Isthmus' popular "Watchdog" column!) exits for a writing job with UW Health.

"It's nice to have a great job to walk away to," says Smith, who worked at the paper for more than a quarter-century. "I've had a good run at the paper. I started out as a phone-answering girl, for $4.80 an hour, in 1982. I finally got up to five bucks an hour just a week ago."

Unlike Moe, Smith leaves without a buyout. Maybe she should have gotten his.

Why Gableman got elected

From an election day ("Pass It On!") email sent out by Robert Frese, a supporter of Mike Gableman for state Supreme Court: "MAKE SURE YOU VOTE TODAY!!!! MY CHOICES ARE GABLEMANN FOR JUDGE. WHY? HE WILL INTERRUPT THE LAWS AS WRITTEN, NOT FROM THE BENCH."

Special Web Report

Murder victim Joel Marino's parents fault police investigation. Read it here.

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