Just about every agency in sight failed 45 exploited foreign school teachers in the J-1 exchange visitor program run by the State Department — except for a government agency little known outside the District of Columbia, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.
That office, using only D.C. law, has sued a middleman, Earl Francisco Lopez, and a series of entities that he controlled, for charging the D.C. teachers excessive fees, for failing to pay some of them for working for his outfits, for usurious loans, and for passing his entities off as State Department-sanctioned organizations, which they are not. For more on these abuses, see the AG's press release, which contains a link to the 18-page complaint.
The teachers were all from Colombia and were threatened with loss of their jobs and deportation if they did not pay the fees and the loan payments.
Among the failures:
- The D.C. public schools, which failed to protect its alien teachers from exploitation and failed to hire Americans who would not have been subject to these abuses;
- The D.C. teachers' union, for not protesting the employment of these vulnerable workers;
- The D.C. tax collectors, who failed to notice that two of the middleman entities had not paid their local business licenses;
- The State Department-endorsed International Teacher Exchange Services, LLC, of Charlotte, N.C., which failed to notice what was happening to its charges;
- The federal and district enforcers of the minimum wage laws;
- The Department of State, whose offices are within a couple of miles of where the teachers were working; and
- The teachers themselves, for falling to be alert to the nature of these arrangements.
On this last point, admittedly a sensitive one: are we hiring people to teach our young who are so unknowing about America, and so obtuse about their working environment, that they fail to protect themselves? That they have not used the internet to find out the rules of the game? The victims are not illiterate farmworkers, they are all college graduates.
One of the schools' attractions to these teachers — with or without Lopez's involvement — is that they are semi-indentured workers. Unlike a citizen employee who might not sign up again for the job after one year at a difficult school, the aliens are stuck with the assignments they get. If they want to work somewhere else, the only obvious legal option is to return to Colombia.
This is not the first time that foreign teachers have been recruited through the J-1 program and then exploited in the Capital area. The District of Columbia, adjacent Prince George's County, Md., and both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have all exploited foreign teachers — and ignored unemployed American workers in this way, as we reported more than seven years ago.
An Additional Worry. The Baltimore County case carries with it a red flag that should be waved vigorously in the direction of these 45 teachers. Under federal tax laws, people on J-1 visas who do not plan to spend more than 36 months here are free from income tax. If they stay beyond 36 months, and have not paid federal income taxes, they then owe retroactive income tax for all the time that they have been in the country. The Baltimore County alien teachers learned this the hard way when six of them were hauled into tax court.
I hope someone, maybe the AG's Office, passes this information along to the teachers, who are not named in the complaint. Which leads us to:
The Heroes in this Story. Six lawyers signed the complaint, and they did so in the hierarchical order traditional in such documents: Karl A. Racine, the D.C. Attorney General; Robyn Bender, the deputy AG in charge of the Public Advocacy Division; and lawyers Jimmy R. Rock, Benjamin M. Wiseman, Richard Rodriguez, and Rhonda Phoenix Tildon.
I could find nothing in the complaint that indicated any interaction between the District's lawyers and any federal agency.