Friday, October 2, 2009

The 1965 Immigration Act Isn’t Supposed to Work Like This

Thinking back to those old school days of Asian American Studies, I just don’t recall the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 being intended to operate this way. From an article in the USA Today:

Unions representing teachers in Louisiana have filed a complaint with state authorities alleging that a Los Angeles recruiting firm broke the law by holding more than 350 Filipino teachers in "virtual servitude" in order to hold onto their jobs in five Louisiana parish school systems, including New Orleans' Recovery School District.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), alleges that Universal Placement International charged Filipino nationals about $15,000 apiece to get jobs — more than 40% of some new teachers' salaries in a few Louisiana parishes — and required that they pay 10% of their monthly salary for two years to keep them.


"This is the kind of exploitation that we have read (about) in history books and taught our students — the fact that teachers would be subject to it in the United States in the 21st century is just totally and completely immoral," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. She notes that the allegations still have to be investigated, but says that, if true, it'd be "mind-blowing that a recruiter could actually get away with this. Even if it was an isolated incident, it would be horrible, but my hunch right now is that it's not isolated."

In Louisiana, many of the Filipino teachers told union investigators that they were required to rent housing provided by Universal, which sublet apartments at a profit. The complaint also alleges that Universal threatened to "take them back to the airport for a return flight to the Philippines" if teachers questioned the contract terms.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 shifted Asian American communities’ demographics tremendously. The act increased immigration by easing back on prior restrictions. Current immigrants present in the United States could use the family reunification clause to bring over relatives. A greater percentage of political refugees would be admitted. And potential immigrants with particular job skills lacking in the United States were given preference.

It is through this latter clause that we still see teachers and nurses from foreign countries (including the Philippines) migrate to the United States in higher numbers. Unfortunately, this story also shows that time doesn’t necessarily change occupational exploitation. Should these allegations be true, it appears the open and overt contract labor injustices (extortion through stolen wages, threats of heavy debt, deportation back to the Philippines, and actively exploiting populations from poor countries) from 19th and 20th century United States just aren’t dying out.

Also listen to this NPR podcast on the story HERE.

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