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Navigating Immigration Visas: Alex Luna Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

-By Alex Luna ’17

Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna ’17

During my time at Texas A&M, I have had the opportunity to live and travel abroad. I have been able to witness first hand that the life we live, as Americans, is not normal but rather special. We live in a nation where we do not constantly fear the threat of Coup d’état or where to find clean water to drink. We live in a state that allows upward mobility, where anyone can do anything through hard work and dedication. This is not the case for most of the world. As a country founded by immigrants for immigrants, we must continue to allow the fair entrance and chance of prosperity to people from every part of the world. A just and fair immigration system is fundamental to this tenet. Inspired by a weekend service trip helping an immigrant family while living in Argentina, I decided to focus my University Service Scholars Capstone Project on helping the immigrant community in Texas.

In 2014, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Garland Independent School District (GISD) was accused of a being a part of a scheme to exploit foreign teachers brought to the United States to work for GISD through H-1B visas. The H-1B Visa Program allows American employers to hire foreign skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions ranging from computer heavy industries to specialized teachers. The student population of the Garland Independent School District, over the past decade, has increasingly seen an influx of Spanish speaking students. To fill a much need gap in regards to the deficit of Spanish speaking teachers, the school district enlisted the aid of H-1B teachers. What started out as a program to meet the needs of GISD, turned into a lucrative business that exploited teachers from an overwhelmingly non Spanish-speaking countries to work in GISD to fill a gap for Spanish speaking teachers. Once the scheme was foiled by the school district, GISD worked hard to handle the mistreatment of these foreign teachers. Due to the negligence and abuse of the system, many of these teachers lost their legal right to work in the district and ended up in confusion with their formal U.S. immigration status.

Being born and raised in Garland, Texas and having attended Garland Independent School District schools throughout the entirety of my primary and secondary schooling, I felt a personal responsibility to give back to my home district and those who work there. My father has served as a member of the school board for eleven years and through his eyes, I have become intimately aware of this unfortunate occurrence. My high school Spanish teacher, Jacobo Luna, was one of the teachers affected by the mishap and was not able to stay employed with Garland ISD after the scandal came to fruition. This also inspired me to investigate the situation and motivated me to want to be a part of the solution to ensure this atrocity never occurred again.

As a way to help prevent another misuse of H-1B visas and to give the GISD teachers currently employed under H-1B visas a point of reference for information about the complicated visa process, I created the “GISD H-1B Visa/PERM Labor Certification Resource Database” service project. The project reads like an FAQ with two main sections entitled H1-B visas and PERM Labor Certifications. The resource contains extensive, detailed information about the visa and recruitment process for obtaining an H-1B visa and a PERM labor certification to obtain permanent residency. Both sections go into extensive detail about the logistics, definitions of terms, and application process. It is designed for someone to understand what a H-1B visa or PERM Labor Certification is without any prior knowledge. After reviewing the resource, a potential immigrant should be able to gain a general understanding of the H-1B visas or PERM Labor Certifications processes. The resource was designed to be user friendly and can also be used as a reference for specific questions regarding one specific part of the process.

Along with the general overview of the application processes, I created a detailed checklist for both H-1B visa and PERM Labor Certification applicants that will serve as an aid to the applicant. I also created a condensed pamphlet of information for both the H-1B Visa and PERM Labor Certification application processes. These will serve as an aid to the district when a H-1B teacher needs a quick reference to the process. The creation of these resources help to consolidate the information and clear up any ambiguity that the process currently holds in the eyes of both the employer and employee.

At the commencement of my research, I knew almost nothing about the immigration process and the strains that are put on those who are applying for visas. Much of my understanding of our immigration system was based off of rhetoric reported by our media. Needless to say, my opinion was very skewed to one side and lacking a clear understanding of the strenuous process. After conducting research and reading personal stories about the immigration process, I have become passionate about immigration reform. Our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of repair. Our nation was founded by immigrants for immigrants and we must always honor this founding statute. My project focused specifically on H-1B visa holders and PERM labor certifications but the problem is much greater than just these two issues. Too many educated, innovative people are being turned away for US immigration that would benefit our economic prosperity. These potential immigrants are looking for opportunities and will make their new home elsewhere if we do not change and reform our system. Our immigration system is a confusing process that unjustly sets limits on people who would serve as a great asset to the American people.

Working with the Garland Independent School District to develop a resource for immigrant teachers has been an eye opening experience. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined.  The University Service Scholars program encouraged me to make a difference in my community and left me motivated to continue fighting for just immigration reform. As Americans, we are almost all decedents of immigrants. To continue American prosperity, a reliable and just immigration system is necessary.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.