Teachers face deportation
Bajans and other Caribbean teachers who left home a decade ago with dreams of making it big in New York City classrooms are facing a nightmare, a possible loss of their jobs and deportation.
But a United States congresswoman from Brooklyn, Yvette Clarke, the daughter of Caribbean immigrant parents, is vowing to help find an amicable federal and city solution to the crisis.
“We have made a commitment to work closely together and I have already reached out to the Obama administration . . . to sort out and sort through all of the challenges the teachers are facing,” said Clarke, who represents the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, where many of the West Indian teachers worked or lived.
Hundreds of teachers, most of them from Jamaica, but scores from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, were recruited to fill classroom vacancies throughout the city at the turn of the century when thousands of experienced teachers were either retiring or going after higher paying classroom jobs in the suburbs and elsewhere.
With the city threatening to lay off as many as 6 000 teachers because of a billion-dollar budget deficit, the West Indians are complaining that promises of high pay, increased higher educational opportunities, adequate housing and a pathway to a green card and eventual American citizenship were never fulfilled.
Even worse, they fear that losing teaching jobs would deprive them of their immigration visas, which could lead to deportation to their respective homelands.
“We have been classified as unskilled workers and are being treated as indentured servants,” said Judith Hall of the International Association of Education, who took part in a meeting on the issue with congresswoman Clarke. In that meeting, the Department of Education contended that the visas were provided because of “the different circumstances” of the teachers’ education and certification to work in the public school system, meaning it was the fastest way to get them into the country and the classroom.
“The first thing we want is to have these teachers’ status changed to skilled professional,” said the Black Institute’s Bertha Lewis.
As she sees it, the West Indians were used and abused by the system.
Reasons abound for the need to change their immigration status and the visas they hold, teachers’ advocates say. For one thing, the teachers, who have at least a bachelor’s degree while others earned master’s degrees, are considered “unskilled” workers.
For another, their spouses who came to the country as a family were denied permission to work while their children were ineligible for scholarships.
Thirdly, the European teachers who came around the same time were treated much better.
At the heart of controversy is the J-1 and E-B3 visas set aside for exchange visitors who can work for two years – which were given to the West Indians. Their visa status should have been switched to the H-1 B visa, which would have enabled their families to remain in the country and gain residency.
In essence, the Department of Education used a shortcut to get the teachers into the country and now it has come back to haunt them, say critics.