A few years ago, a school district in Texas found itself with a booming immigrant population and few teachers who spoke Spanish. So they started an ambitious recruitment program that brought in 260 teachers – from Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela – to meet their growing demand.
Now, about six years later, 23 of those teachers are facing deportation after the Garland Independent School District apparently bungled their temporary work visas, or H-1B. Federal authorities are investigating the school district over the blunder and an administrator, teacher and associate superintendent have been placed on leave.
The problem centers on work done by a law firm, which has since been fired. The firm allegedly asked the teachers to pay for the sponsorship of their H-1B, an apparent violation of the visa requirement. Federal law mandates that the sponsoring organization – the district, in this case, not the teachers – cover the $20,000 in costs for each applicant.
“Totally we were naïve,” Francisco Marcano, 41, a Venezuelan teacher facing deportation told The Dallas Morning-News. “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 teachers, some of whom received their master’s degree in the U.S. and were recruited from other districts in the country, had been promised that once their visa expired they would receive legal residency. But once the work visas – which only last six years – were about to expire, their applications for permanent residency kept getting denied. When they submitted paperwork to appeal the decision, the district realized there had been a significant gaffe.
Once it realized the mistake, the school board turned the investigation over to the Department of Homeland Security and changed law firms. An in-house investigation found that the school board didn't do enough to find qualified teachers that were legal residents.
"The District and some of its employee are victims of those irregularities," Harry Jones, a lawyer the school board hired to conduct the investigation, told FOX 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth. "It looks like somebody was getting the fees that should not have been. That's what we're investigating."
District Superintendent Bob Morrison told the Morning-News that because of the limits of immigration law, there is nothing the district could do for the teachers – even though they have been doing a good job and did nothing wrong.
“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,” Morrison said in a statement.
The teachers have been told that the district will reimburse the fees they paid but there is nothing that could be done to extend their visas.
That brings little consolation to some of the teachers, some whose children were born in the United States.
“We are more worried about our legal status because we want to continue to work legally,” Bernardo Montes-Rodriguez, 41, who faces deportation in September when his visa expires, told the Morning-News. “I prefer to lose that money if we get the green card. That’s what we were promised.”