Photo courtesy of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)
September 21, 2011
His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino, III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Dear President Aquino,
We are 957 Filipinos, whose lives and that of our spouses and young children, have been compromised here in Maryland, USA, by the debarment provision in the settlement agreement between the US Department of Labor (DOL) and our employer, Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS), who was found to be a “willful violator” of the H-1B program. This agreement was publicly announced on July 7, 2011, and became operative on the same day when almost 200 of us received notices from our employer that we would be separated from service when our visas expire this school year. To many of us, this meant an abrupt end to our lawful presence in the United States, and concomitantly, to our livelihood. To all of us, the debarment is unjustly punishing us – the victims.
Our plight must have come to your attention when we first received notice of the DOL findings on April 5, 2011. As beleaguered Filipino citizens, we sought advice and legal counsel from the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) and the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. through its labor attaché. However, this initial furor died down on May 5, 2011, when PGCPS gave their word to us that they would continue processing the renewal/extensions of our visas; they actually collected the necessary documents from us. You could only imagine our disappointment and disgust when we were told that we would be losing our jobs on account of our status after PGCPS promised extensions on our visas.
We are writing to you, all 957, to urge you to protect our status, our livelihood, and our lives, in general. In the past months, we have approached the Philippine Embassy for help, for people and organizations in its network that might be able to provide relief and remedies to our situation. We have also linked up with local civic groups and private individuals to help advance our cause through appeals to local officials, information drives, pickets, and rallies. We have listened to a number of lawyers. Individually, we have done the best we could to be able to stay legally in the US. To many of us, going back home to the Philippines is not a choice: We have uprooted our lives and families in the Philippines and have settled here in the United States. Moreover, the speed and precipitousness of the determination did not leave us ample time to prepare to move. Right now, our lives hang in a balance as we try to find relief from the unfair effects of the debarment on the lives of our family members.
As citizens of the Philippines, as part of the overseas workforce that significantly contributes to our country’s economy, as paying members of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), we call on you for any appropriate diplomatic action to defer our present status until after the two-year debarment. We also respectfully urge you for legal assistance funding for the services of a US law firm that will bring the violators to justice and give us, the victims, relief from the effects of the debarment.
Your apt consideration of our urgent appeal will be highly appreciated.
Mabuhay po kayo!
THE FILIPINO TEACHERS OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Maryland
c/o the Pilipino Educators Nework (PEN)
1107 Ivy Club Ln Unit 444
Hyattsville, MD 20785
Carlo B. Parapara