Hundreds of teachers who left their homes in the Caribbean to teach in New York City classrooms may finally get the green cards they were promised more than a decade ago.
Almost 50 native Caribbean teachers - as well as state and city officials - rallied on the steps of City Hall today to show support for renewed efforts by the Department of Education to help put these educators on a pathway to permanent residency.
"We're very excited today for our teachers because the promises will finally be fulfilled," said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), who recently introduced a resolution urging assistance from the Bloomberg administration.
But Williams conceded that the threat of deportation still loomed large: "Time is still of the essence, though," he added, "and we cannot rest until the Caribbean teachers and their families are safely on the road to permanent residency."
Fatima Shama, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, assured the crowd Hizzoner is dedicated to the cause.
"Immigration is a complex issue," Shama said. "But we came to be a part of this discussion and we are permanently committed to making sure we find a practical solution that will provide permanent residency for our international teachers."
In 2001, the DOE tried to address a local teacher shortage by recruiting qualified educators from a dozen island nations and placing ads in local newspapers in cities like Kingston, Jamaica and Georgetown, Guyana.
More than 700 immigrants came here in hopes of becoming permanent U.S. citizens, but so far only 276 have achieved that, city figures show.
Those directly affected by this initiative voiced their hope for DOE's latest efforts, but said they've struggled.
"It's hard to wake up every morning not knowing what your future will be," said Kevin Lowe, 26, the son of a teacher who came from Guyana. "We just want to continue living in a place where we've built our lives."