MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So we've just met some people who came to the U.S. from other countries. The people we'll meet next, on the other hand, are being told they have to leave. The Prince George's county school system has recruited hundreds of international teachers since 2002. But some of these teachers will be boarding flights out of Washington as soon as today. They're caught in the middle of a dispute between the school system and the U.S. Department of Labor. Kavitha Cardoza met several of these teachers as they protested in front of the White House.
Say what you need, what you really need?
Tell me what you want, what you really want.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Maria Estravez first met Prince George's county school officials when they came to the Philippines in 2006. She says the first question she asked them was will they sponsor her permanent residency or green card. She says they said yes, which is why she moved to Clinton where she teaches math at Stephen Decatur Middle School.
MS. MARIA ESTRAVEZ
Some of my students would outrightly tell in my face that they didn't like math, at all.
Estravez says her goal was to change that. So long after the last bell, she would stay at her desk, going over lesson plans for the next day.
Building custodians would always tell me, you go home. What are you doing here? Some of my teachers, if I leave early, they would mock me, Ms. Estravez, leaving early today, is that true? What have you eaten? I really work hard, like, really, really hard because I want to be able to help my students.
Estravez concentrated on her class, not realizing there was a problem. She and other international teachers had paid the fees associated with temporary employment visas which should've been paid for by the Prince George's county school district. So what happened was the foreign teachers were making less than their American counterparts, which is illegal. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated and found Prince George's county was what's called a willful violator, which means officials knew they were breaking the law.
The school system denies this, but was ordered to pay more than $4 million in back pay, approximately $4,000 for each teacher. They also have to pay a $100,000 fine. And under the law, Prince George's isn't allowed to apply for new visas for foreign teachers or renew current ones until 2014. Estravez says she's hoping the labor department will change its mind.
If they will (sounds like) debar Fiji from hiring future teachers and then keep us, then that would be very, very great.
That's unlikely, which means more than 250 teachers will have to leave the country by the end of this year with hundreds more to follow, which brings us back to the rally.
One, we are the people. Two, a little bit louder. Three, no deportation for our teachers. One, we are the people. Two, a little bit louder. Three...
Diaz Carpio (sp?) is one of the teachers who's packing to leave.
MS. DIAZ CARPIO
I was a recruited from the Philippines in July 2007.
Carpio taught early childhood classes at Templeton Elementary school in Riverdale. She says she was told if she was certified in what's called a critical area, her visa would be renewed. So she became certified in English as a second language and turned down two other job offers from different school districts. Then Carpio says, she was told her visa wouldn't be renewed anyway.
Like, right now, I feel very angry, also sad because it's a lost dream. I trusted all of their promises and now they just left me hanging with nothing.
Neither Prince George's county school superintendent William Hite, nor any of the counties school board members agreed to talk to WAMU for this report. School spokesperson Briant Coleman issued a statement saying PGCPS did everything possible to retain these excellent and valued employees. However, in the final analysis of the current state of our shrinking school budget and mounting legal fees, we determined that we simply could not afford to continue to operate this program.
Several of these teachers have won awards for their work and school officials have described them as exceptional.
MR. IRA MEHLMAN
It's besides the point.
That's Ira Mehlman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR. Mehlman says renewing such temporary visas gives school districts less incentive to hire American workers.
It is admirable that they work hard and that they are good teachers, but given the unemployment situation in this country, given the fact that, you know, you have teachers all across the United States who are being laid off at this point, they should be able to recruit teachers from other parts of the country. They don't need to go halfway around the world.
Briant Coleman, the schools spokesperson put out a press release in April saying, the loss of these teachers could have a devastating impact on the school system. But he refused this week to say how Prince George's was fairing in finding replacements for them. The labor department would not talk on tape either for this story, but released a statement saying it was just enforcing the law. Meanwhile, Ximena Meneses, who was recruited to teach Spanish at Thomas Johnson Middle school in Lanham, Md. in 2007 is packing. Her U.S. visa expires next week.
MS. XIMENA MENESES
They took my life.
She'll have to sell her house and car. Her son won't enter 12th grade with his friends here and they'll have to return home to Chili, like many of her colleagues who are getting ready to leave.
To nothing, to nothing. Because when they come here, they saw everything, as me. I saw everything. I just start making a life here and they just took it. Because I love that school. I love my students. And now they just took it.
I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
You can see photographs and videos of the teachers rally at the White House on our website metroconnection.org.
After the break, the world's most exotic detention center for smuggled plants.
MR. KYLE WALLICK
For me to have a plant rattling around in a box that's older than I am, it's an honor to be able to keep it. But there's an element of sadness to it, that it's not where it really belongs.
That and more coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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