Last week at a protest in front of the White House, Millet De Vera Panga said, “We’re here to appeal to President Obama to provide the international teachers from Prince George’s County Public School system [with] some sort of relief.”
Panga teaches ESOL to third and fourth graders at James McHenry Elementary School in Lanham. She’s one of 1,044 international teachers recruited by PGCPS through the H-1B program since 2004.
Last month, the Department of Labor found PGCPS to be a “willful violator” of federal labor law and ordered the school system to pay $4.22 million in back wages.
DOL also ruled that PGCPS is barred from participating in the H-1B program until 2014, which the teachers say victimizes them twice. First, they were forced to pay their own visa fees to come to the U.S., in contradiction to the laws governing the H-1B program. Then, after blowing the whistle on this illegal practice, DOL responded by “punishing” PGCPS with debarment from the H-1B program – but this action, in fact, punishes the teachers who won’t be able to renew their visas and must leave the country or face deportation.
“It’s just like [a] Catch-22. We’re being victimized twice,” said Panga. A letter circulated by the teachers at the White House protest states, “After 6 or so years, here we are being booted by the same institution – the DOL Wage and Hour Division – that is mandated to protect our rights as workers, without prejudice to race and color.”
In 2009, Panga became a permanent U.S. resident. So, unlike many of her colleagues, she isn’t directly impacted by the DOL ruling. But that hasn’t stopped her from working tirelessly with the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) to stop the deportations.
“I’m here because, first, personally, I believe that this is very unjust. This violates human rights. I’m here to provide full support to all the international teachers. I’m here to share my strength. I’m here to serve as an anchor… and to lend my voice so that we can actually inform everybody of what’s going on in our school system.”