Americas Columns

CRISTINA OSMENA: US keeps border closed to 2 Filipina teachers

In addition to all the other problems facing the Bay Area—out-of-reach housing prices, homelessness, fentanyl, looting, organized retail thefts, and gangs of teens attacking unarmed people with hammers—there is a shortage of teachers. Moreover, to affording housing on a teacher’s salary, teachers may drive hours to get to work. Add to that some hefty requirements to qualify as a teacher, especially in the specialty fields, and it all adds up to what has been a challenging hiring environment for schools that was only exacerbated by a rush of retirements during the Covid lockdown.

Especially difficult to hire are teachers in math, science, technology, and special education. It is typical for a Bay Area school district to announce such positions on and receive no replies.

“I hear some districts are short hundreds of qualified teachers,” said Ben Turner, Principal of Benjamin Franklin Intermediate School in Daly City. “Right now, a qualified math teacher that is doing well in class is pretty extraordinary.”

That is why we should all be puzzled by Sharena Domingo’s and Angeline Osana’s situations. Both worked as teachers in the Jefferson Elementary School District in Daly City—Domingo as a math teacher and Osana as a special educator. Both obtained the right to work in the United States through J-1 visas for which they applied at the US Embassy in Manila. The J-1 visa terms out after five years and the holders, in this case Domingo and Osana, must return to their countries. While Domingo and Osana may reapply after two years in the Philippines, they are eager to return to their Bay Area lives, their jobs, and their homes. Here are two people who are natural fits in the local community with places to stay that are close to their places of work. Spending their savings on lawyers, they are trying to return to their US homes through legal means.

It stands in sharp contrast to the situation at the southern border. Since October 2020, US Customs and Border Protection has counted 6.7 million Southwest border “encounters” with illegal immigrants. “Encounters” tripled from fiscal 2020 to fiscal 2021 (that’s the US fiscal year, October to September) before proceeding to climb from those levels. These figures represent only a shadow of the most important number, a number that cannot be tracked—how many people have crossed into the United States whether or not the government knows about them.

I jokingly asked why these teachers not return to Daly City the same way. “They need to do it the ethical way,” said one representative.

The flood of migrants through a border that is largely uncontrolled is creating local crises in Texan cities like El Paso and Eagle Pass, and northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Denver. Martha’s Vineyard solved their migrant problem differently, by removing the border crossers to a base off island and issuing a press release about its seasonality. When pressured to act, the Biden Administration, instead of enforcing the US borders, granted almost five hundred thousand Venezuelans the right to work for 18 months. Typically, asylum seekers must wait several months before applying for work permits. The special treatment is sure to entice more Venezuelans, eager to escape their corrupt socialist government, to make the dangerous trek to Texas.

In the meantime, Sharena Domingo and Angeline Osana wait. They have skills (Domingo’s students enjoyed improved test scores while she taught them). They respect the letter of the law. They have housing of their own in the United States. All this as the flood of unskilled from south of the border continues unimpeded.

Ben Turner summarizes the situation best: “If there’s a shortage (of teachers) and they want to be here, why can’t they stay? It’s a shame.”

It’s a shame the Biden Administration doesn’t show our skilled Filipinas the same kind of favor he has shown the Venezuelans. After all our countries have been through together.