Hot News‎ > ‎

Dear Pres. Barack Obama and Pres. Benigno Aquino, III

posted Aug 10, 2011, 6:55 PM by Carlo Parapara   [ updated Aug 18, 2011, 8:06 PM ]
                                                                                                                                                                             August 9, 2011
 
 
President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 2050

 

 
Dear President Obama:

 

We are  1,014 international teachers, whose lives and that of our spouses and young children, have been disrupted and 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 H1B program. This agreement was publicly announced on July 7, 2011.

We do not dispute the DOL findings, but we denounce the manner by which the settlement agreement disregards the very people that the DOL Wage and Hour Division are supposed to protect. We, international teachers, are bearing the brunt of the DOL determination, while the willful violator, our employer, gets a mere slap on the wrist having secured fewer fines. 

Back when PGCPS was a school system in reconstruction, it used the H1B program to evade the heavy fines associated with failing to comply with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate, specifically that of “a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by 2006.”   Many of us were recruited and hired in our home countries (most of us in the Philippines) by representatives of PGCPS from 2005 through 2007, promising us permanent residence when we achieve tenure in the school system. 

An article about Governor O’Malley’s use of stimulus funds to further the progress of Prince George’s County schools has stated the following: “Investments in PGCPS and its students have paid tremendous dividends. PGCPS students have improved on the Maryland School Assessments for five years in a row, including 2008 when scores rose in every subject tested, in every grade, and in every subgroup. PGCPS met all mandates for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the first time and would exit Corrective Action by meeting AYP again this spring”. Although we cannot directly attribute this success to us international teachers, evidently our hard work and commitment has yielded a positive result which is undeniable because 10% of the teaching workforce is comprised of Filipino/international teachers. 

Essentially, what this means is that international teachers made a difference in no small measure in the lives of the children Prince George’s County, and consequently in the future of this great nation. Now, because of the debarment, PGCPS stands to lose teachers with years of work experience and the track record of successfully helping children in the community to excel.  You only have to look back to the years before we were brought en masse to the US to see the ramifications of what the debarment could mean. Within the hour that DOL announced the settlement with PGCPS, around 500 or so of us receive notices of termination due to the expiration of our H1B status. We would like to stress that this action came after PGCPS collected documents pertinent to filing for H1B extensions and renewals in a show to keep their promise to secure our visas for the coming school year before any final settlement could be reached between DOL and PGCPS.  To many of us the DOL July 7 announcement meant an abrupt end to our lawful presence in the United States, and concomitantly, to our livelihood, our dignity, and humanity. Many of us have sold everything, save our souls, and have nothing to return to.  To all of us, the debarment is unjustly punishing us – the international teachers— and our students, who we are forced to leave behind.  We did the job that we were invited to do here and we did it well.  Our presence helped fulfill the NCLB mandate of highly qualified teacher in every classroom and more: turn achievement scores around.

We performed our jobs willingly, diligently, skillfully, and cheerfully as part of our dedication and commitment to our profession.  We uprooted our lives in our home countries for the promise of better wages, better living conditions, and most especially, better opportunities for our own children.  When we left our home countries, we were looking to make USA our home. We did well, and many of us, exceptionally well, because we desired security in our new home.  After 6 or so years, here we are being booted by the same institution- the DOL Wage and Hour Division – that is mandated to protect our rights as workers, without prejudice to race and color.

We call on you, President Obama, to remember the diplomatic and historical ties between our countries (e.g. the Philippines) and use your influence and any appropriate executive power you have to – 
  • support our petitions to the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security to make the  effects of the debarment prospective (i.e., to secure the status of the international teachers who are already tenured, and debar PGCPS from the H1B program on future hires);
  • call for a congressional hearing to investigate what we suspect was graft and corruption among the ranks of PGCPS administration when they used foreign recruitment agencies. We paid hefty recruitment fees (about 3-4 times our monthly salaries in PGCPS, or 5-7 times our annual salaries back in our home countries) to come and work in your country’s public schools and live the American dream;
  • call for a congressional hearing to re-examine the laws governing the H1B program so that whistleblowers and other victims are not adversely affected by any punitive actions meted out on the violator. For the protection of both American workers and H1B workers, it is important to determine how widespread the practice is among H1B workers and establish a trend and cause.
 
Sincerely,

 

 

FILIPINO TEACHERS OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Maryland

c/o the Pilipino Educators Nework (PEN)     
 

                                                                                                                                                August 6, 2011
 

His Excellency

Benigno S. Aquino, III

President of the Philippines

Malacanang Palace

Manila, 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 H1-B 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 Philippine Embassy in DC 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. So, 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, 957 strong, to urge you to protect our status, our livelihood, and our lives, in general.  In the past month, 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 US.  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 POEA, 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 to fund 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.

 

To date, the Administrative Law Judge has deferred consideration of the settlement agreement until August 12, 2011, pending the resolution of a dispositive motion.  We would like to emphasize the urgency of this request.

 

Your prompt consideration of our urgent appeal will be highly appreciated.

 

Mabuhay po kayo!

 

Sincerely,

 

  

FILIPINO TEACHERS OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Maryland 

c/o the Pilipino Educators Nework (PEN)    

Comments