Probe pressed vs Maryland school officials

by Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Oct 12 2011 05:55 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2011 01:55 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. - Lawyers for some of the displaced Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county are urging Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to investigate public school officials who allegedly received gifts and favors from recruiters in the Philippines.

“We learned that money by way of commissions was involved,” said lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), who serves as counsel for some teachers who have been hit by the Department of Labor’s debarment order against the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

“Some received gifts, and the lavish way they were treated while they were in the Philippines was inappropriate for county officials,” he said.

About 800 Filipino teachers in PG County have lost or are on the way to losing their jobs because the Labor Department determined that PGCPS “willfully violated” the conditions of the H-1B visa when they illegally collected fees from teachers that should have been paid for by the schools.

“If we can show corruption, the position of the teachers will be strengthened,” Valera argued.

Some of the teachers indicated they have direct knowledge of the alleged questionable conduct of some PGCPS officials who flew to the Philippines, ostensibly to help in the recruitment and prepare the candidates for their new jobs in Maryland.

They could be entitled to the U or T visas that are given to victims or witnesses of crimes being prosecuted or investigated in the US.

Filipino teachers staged protests in front of the White House, and the Labor, Education and Homeland Security departments, saying they’ve become victims twice over because they were being punished for a wrong they didn’t commit, and now face the prospect of arrest and deportation.

Under a compromise agreement with the DOL, the PGCPS agreed to pay back over $4 million in the form of back wages to cover the fees they collected from the teachers, $100,000 in fines and barred them from recruiting or extending work permits for about a thousand foreign teachers in county public schools.

“The teachers should maintain that the Prince George’s public schools were willful violators and on that basis, establish the legal grounds for their continued presence in America,” he explained.

He added that they have sought the help of the DHS to defer action on teachers who are already out of status after losing their jobs. “This is in line with their political demands that was contained in a letter to President Obama that they be given time to make the transition or find another teaching opportunity.”

Valera revealed the case of one Filipino teacher deemed to be already out-of-status but was later given a reprieve by the DHS. “We used the argument that because PGCPS was a willful violator it wasn’t the teacher’s fault that she was out of status, and the immigration officer agreed with us,” he explained.

“If there is a question of law when you are terminated for a cause beyond your control as in the case of our teachers, you may ask for an extension despite the fact your I-94 has already expired,” Valera added.

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