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Recruited teachers ask for fair immigration reform

Calls for fair and comprehensive immigration reform are mounting as members of Congress hammer out proposals to be introduced in the House and Senate later this spring. On March 20, 500 immigrants from Caribbean and African nations, and their supporters, boarded buses to Washington, D.C. Most came from New York City. All raised their voices to demand racial justice in the immigration reform debate.

Immigration Rally

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel was one of the rally speakers.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel was one of the rally speakers.

Judith DeFour-Howard, a retired teacher and member of the United Federation of Teachers, took the podium at a Capitol Hill rally organized by the Black Institute, Churches United to Save and Heal, and other community, labor and faith-based groups. She came to New York in 2002 from Trinidad and Tobago to be a math teacher after being recruited by the New York City Board of Education. She was one of 1,000 teachers from the Caribbean who arrived over a three- to four-year period, she says, recruited to help the system address a twofold problem: a teacher shortage and many low-performing schools.

"We came equipped and ready to change the system for the better," she says. "It was a calculated risk, but the Board of Ed said teachers would be given a path to citizenship, should they seek it. Now, 10 years later, half of these teachers are still in the line for residency. 'Why?' we asked. We were told it is because they have been put into an 'unskilled' category!"

"They need to be fair. We need to be in a professional category. They can't say one thing and do another."

Immigration Rally

Daniel Gill and and Judith DeFour-Howard were recruited to teach in New York City's schools.

Daniel Gill and and Judith DeFour-Howard were recruited to teach in New York City's schools.

The hundreds assembled on the Capitol lawn came seeking comprehensive immigration reform that unifies families, provides citizenship for those undocumented or holding temporary visas, and brings economic justice to black immigrant and African-American communities.

While DeFour-Howard has a work visa, Daniel Gill, an unemployed teacher and UFT member, is fighting for his legal footing after a principal wrongfully terminated him. Recruited from Barbados in 2001, he taught for eight years in New York, and then found himself working at the whim of a new school principal who refused to sign the employment letter he needed to renew his visa. By the time the union had successfully grieved and overturned the action, his immigration status had changed and he was out of a job.

"I am disillusioned and heartbroken," he says. He has a wife and three children, one of whom was born here and another who is processing an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He is working to bring together those teachers in similar situations "so we are a united front, working to be a legal party to immigration reform."

The AFT is working in support of comprehensive immigration reform that is compassionate and makes sense. Earlier this year, the union released a report, "The American Dream Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse," that details abusive and exploitative practices by those who recruit immigrant workers for jobs in the United States. The AFT believes any immigration reform must include protections for recruited immigrant workers who come here under various work visa programs. [Barbara McKenna, Derrick Figures/Michael Campbell photos]

March 21, 2013