Garland teachers facing deportation fault school district
Garland ISD agrees that (from left) Alfonso Casares, Bernardo Montes-Rodriguez, Elizabeth Niño de Rivera and Francisco Marcano have done nothing wrong. But the teachers say that the visa investigation has left them abandoned.
By RAY LESZCYNSKI
Seasoned professionals who face deportation are giving the Garland school district an incomplete grade over the decision to come clean and turn its H-1B visa investigation over to federal officials.
Of about 260 teachers who came to the district on the visas, 23 have yet to receive their green card. Though the investigation centers on the actions of former lawyers and administrators, some of the 23 say the bottom line of their terms of employment hasn’t changed.
“If you had good work, then you were going to be helped with your permanent residency,” said Alfonso Casares, who faces a return to his native Colombia at the end of August.
Casares, 43, teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-year Spanish at Lakeview Centennial High School. Like others, he was recruited to Garland ISD in the mid-2000s as the district sought bilingual experts to offset its booming immigrant population.
H-1B is specifically targeted to skilled professionals, and through it the district found a route to quality teachers, Casares said. Many have master’s degrees, often earned in the U.S. Some came from other states with years of experience from temporary teacher visas.
Bernardo Montes-Rodriguez said he was told during recruiting that Garland ISD had sponsored hundreds of successful petitions for permanent residency. But his applications have been audited and denied twice since he came to the district in 2007. He was appealing the decision when the district’s in-house investigation began to show things weren’t in order.
“We have been doing a good job,” said Montes-Rodriguez, 41, a teacher at one of the district’s elementary academies. “Now, the district is giving another message. Now, ‘We’re not going to do it. We’re just going to send them back to their countries.’”
In turning the investigation over to federal officials last month, Garland ISD put its human resources director and two others on leave. It changed legal firms. It said that all the necessary steps in the process to go abroad to find specialists — including thorough checks to see whether there were qualified legal residents — had not been followed.
“We are not here because we came to take anybody else’s position,” said Francisco Marcano, 41, a Venezuelan. “On the contrary, when I came here, the school district was desperately looking for teachers.”
‘Did what they told us’
Federal law requires the sponsoring organization, GISD in this case, to cover all costs of H-1B visas. In all, those costs could reach $20,000 per teacher.
Elizabeth Niño de Rivera, 39, was told in 2008 by the human resources director who recruited her at a job fair in Monterrey, Mexico, that the paperwork would not be done unless the teachers followed the instructions of the district’s attorneys. The teachers say they were told to pay the attorneys directly to cover the costs.
Like the others, Niño de Rivera had no independent representation and did not know the full requirements of an H-1B, which was different from her visitor visa.
“I did not look,” she said. “We did what they told us.”
“Totally we were naïve,” Marcano said. “I came to my employer that I trusted completely. The lawyer said we were going to have a long-term relationship and to apply for the H-1B visa.”
The federal investigation may lead to reimbursement. For Montes-Rodriguez, who faces deportation when his visa expires in September, repayment is far short of restitution.
“We are more worried about our legal status because we want to continue to work legally,” he said. “I prefer to lose that money if we get the green card. That’s what we were promised.”
Six teachers took their plea to the Garland school board Feb. 25. At the first of the year, the teachers say, the district said their appeals were unlikely to win and would no longer be supported by the district’s attorneys.
When Garland ISD informed them of the results of the in-house investigation, they said they were brought individually to a table with district and legal representatives.
“Basically, I was in front of five people by myself,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “They were basically saying that because my visa is very close to expiring and the previous lawyers made very bad work that I need to depart the country — that they cannot do anything.”
Niño de Rivera, whose visa expires June 1, said they have yet to hear from any member of the school board. In the meantime, the kindergarten teacher said, she has been named her school’s teacher of the month for February.
In a February statement, Superintendent Bob Morrison said the district has never been responsible for permanent residency and that it no longer can continue the process initiated by its former counsel because of the limits of immigration law.
“We are saddened that some of the teachers do not have enough time left in their temporary immigration status for the transition to permanent residence,” the statement said.
The district agrees that the teachers have done nothing wrong. It says that it is doing everything it can for its employees. But those who face deportation say that the investigation has led them to be separated and abandoned.
“Every time we hear him on the news saying yes we’re going to support them,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “But how is that support translated in my case when the lawyers and the district are telling me we are not going to do anything for you?
“I have been here for 10 years. My daughter was born here. She doesn’t know any other country other than the United States.”