Trustees debate ways to tap illegal immigrants as bilingual teachers
Dallas Morning News
February 8, 2006


For one young woman at the Dallas school board meeting Tuesday, the discussion about hiring illegal immigrants as bilingual teachers hit close to home.

She entered the United States from Mexico illegally as a child with her parents 18 years ago. And she recently graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor's degree in bilingual education.

 She's frustrated that public school educators encouraged her to go to college, because now that she's got a degree, she can't work as a teacher because of her immigration status.

"After going to school for so many years and not getting nothing out of it, it's not right," said the 25-year-old woman, who attended the meeting but asked not to be identified, fearing deportation. "I'm a certified teacher, but I can't work."

School board members, confronted with a growing shortage of bilingual teachers, are exploring ways to solve the problem. At Tuesday's meeting, board President Lois Parrott said trustees will continue to look for a solution "to this difficult situation."

A lawyer knowledgeable in international law and a university professor with expertise in bilingual education discussed changing the federal law that prohibits hiring illegal immigrants.

Trustee Joe May, who brought the issue before the board, said the district is in crisis mode because it doesn't have enough bilingual teachers to educate students.

"These kids do well in school and they do well in college, but they can't teach because of who they are," Mr. May said.
He added that some have more ties to the United States than to Mexico.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa supports changing the law.

"Business leaders want an educated workforce; we want them to do something with that college degree," Dr. Hinojosa said. "These kids have a dream to make the world better than they had."

The options discussed at Tuesday's meeting:
Using lobbyists to help get the law changed.
Meeting with Dallas' legislative delegation for help.
Combining forces with other urban school districts with similar shortages.

Seeking a provision in the law that would address only DISD's hardship in hiring enough bilingual teachers.
"There's a way to ask for something narrow to serve our needs," trustee Jack Lowe said.

Dr. Rudy Rodriguez, a professor at the University of North Texas who has spent more than 25 years in teacher education, suggested DISD bring the workers on as contractors as a quick fix. He said it could take a long time to change federal law.

Florentino Ramirez, an attorney with Ramirez & Associates in Dallas, said the solution for DISD is the DREAM Act, a bill that has been stalled in Congress for two or three years.

The bill allows illegal immigrants who graduate from high school to apply for conditional status, which allows them to stay legally in the United States for six years. During those six years they must graduate from a two-year college or complete at least two years of a four-year college degree or serve at least two years in the military.

If they successfully complete the requirements and maintain good moral character, they would be granted legal permanent resident status.

Proponents of the bill estimate that 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

Dr. Rodriguez commended DISD trustees for taking on the challenge. He said he knows of students' families that have paid high fees for advice on getting legal status for their children. The answer typically, he said, is to go back to Mexico and try to get legal status.
"There is that fear factor," Dr. Rodriguez said, that they "may not be allowed to come back."

Another option, the professor said, is marrying a United States citizen.

"They don't want to be married; they want to teach," he said.

The woman who attended the meeting is hopeful that DISD trustees will help her and others find a way to legally work in this country. She said going back to Mexico to get a work visa isn't an option because she fears she'll have to stay for years.
"I have no family there," she said.

Staff writer Frank Trejo contributed to this report.
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