Hundreds of Filipino guestworkers lured to teach in Louisiana public schools were cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars and forced into exploitative contracts by an international trafficking ring run by labor contractors, according to a class action lawsuit filed on August 5th by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Covington & Burling LLP. The sad part about this story is that it shows another case that involves Filipinos taking advantage of their kababayans’ rights and well being through fraudulent acts.
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 350 Filipino teachers working in Louisiana under the federal H-1B guestworker program. For those unfamiliar with immigration law terms, H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, which in this case is education. The lawsuit accuses Universal Placement International, based in Los Angeles, and its sister organization, Manila-based PARS International Placement Agency – of human trafficking, racketeering and fraud. The suit also names the East Baton Rouge Public School System, several school district officials and a California lawyer, Robert Silverman, based on their roles in the fraudulent trafficking scheme.
“The outrageous conduct by the companies that recruited these teachers and those who assisted them in carrying out their scheme is part of a larger pattern of exploitation that we’ve documented in guestworker programs,” said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer, author of the 2007 report Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States. “It’s clear that the very structure of the program lends itself to pervasive worker abuse. Guestworker programs should not be the model for immigration reform.”
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the home state of Universal. Included as defendants are Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, owner and president of Universal; Hothello “Jack” Navarro, a director at Universal; and Emilio V. Villarba, a representative of PARS. In 2000, Lourdes Navarro was convicted of defrauding California’s MediCal program of more than $1 million and served a year in Orange County Jail. Villarba, Navarro’s brother, was also charged in the scheme but was never apprehended and is now in the Philippines. In 2003, Lourdes Navarro also pleaded guilty in New Jersey to money laundering.
Apparently, public schools across America have been filling their teaching positions with teachers from the H-1B guestworker program. According to a recent report by the AFT, the number of overseas teachers brought to the United States increased by nearly 30 percent between 2002 and 2006, from 14,943 to 19,393. The five states with the most overseas teachers are Texas, New York, California, Maryland and Louisiana, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These teachers began arriving in the United States in 2007 after each paid about $16,000, several times the average household income in the Philippines to obtain these positions. The H-1B guestworker program permits foreign nationals with special skills to work in the United States for a period of up to six years. For more on this story, click here.