Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Xiao Ying's War

Wife Says Husband Left U.S. After School Reps Created "Illegal" History

Xiao Ying Zhang, pictured with her infant daughter, traveled all the way to Capitol Hill to request help from elected officials. To date, none have taken a position in a case that could mark a watershed moment in U.S./China relations.

Howard Wang and Xiao Ying Zhang were born and raised in the Sichuan province of China. Like many married couples from foreign lands, they often dreamed of coming to the United States to gain citizenship, start a family and build a new life. That opportunity came eight years ago when Wang and his wife entered the country under F-1 and F-2 dependent visa status. The F-1 allows non-immigrant students to enter the U.S. and the F-2 is a non-immigrant visa that grants access to dependent spouses and children. “My husband had an F-1 visa. He was studying computer science courses while we were living a nice, quite life in Wyoming. The people there were very nice and made us feel welcomed,” said Zhang. “My husband graduated in August of 2002. I was not working because the F-2 visa does not allow you to be employed. I was taking care of my child at home and learning English sporadically. I can now read most English with the help of a dictionary.”

The family soon migrated to Arizona after Shono Preparatory High School hired Wang as a math teacher in December of 2002 under the Optional Practice status. An F-1 student has a one-year optional practice period. On June 1, 2003, right before his optional practice status ended, June 2, 2003, Wang was granted H1-B status and Zhang was granted H4 status as a result. However, the couple's life was about to undergo another major transformation, as the Cincinnati Public School (CPS) district in Ohio requested Wang’s services. “On September 16, 2003, my husband was offered a teaching job at the Academy of World Languages (AWL) through the CPS district office. He quit his job at Shono on September 19, 2003 and moved to Ohio right away. This is when our American dream began to turn into a horrible, horrible nightmare,” said Zhang.

The couple provided official faxed documents from AWL to Wang, dated September 16, 2003. The two-page application confirmed that a “position of acceptance” had been agreed to by Wang and Stephen Hoyt, a principal that is no longer at the institution, to teach a class entitled “Chinese Languages”. The document also indicated that all necessary paperwork would be processed. Zhang contends that once they arrived at the school, they were immediately classified as illegal and that problems seemed to develop right from the start.

“First, the public school’s attorney, Mary M Godar, claimed we were illegal. In my opinion, for whatever reason, this woman was paid by the public school to 'operate' on our legal documents for months,” Zhang proclaimed. “She was paid very well by the public school for months, but our family was forced to wait until the matter was investigated. We had no income from September 19 to November 25, 2003. It was because of the generosity of people that we were even able to eat and pay our bills. We really didn't understand why this was happening because my husband had done the paper work for his first H1-B in only a few days.”

Zhang indicated that the situation took a dramatic turn on November 25, 2003. The CPS, still acting under Godar's legal guidance, suddenly let Wang work at the school on an as needed basis. Meanwhile, Wang’s legal status between September 19, 2003 and Nov. 25, 2003 was exactly same. “The school district and its attorney were obviously above the law. When they didn’t want my husband working, they said he was illegal. When they needed him, the illegal status they claimed was forgotten. So, in essence, he taught American kids with an illegal tag posted by the district and its attorney. We have the paycheck stubs to prove it,” said Zhang.

Zhang further alleges that in September of 2004, her husband, who has a Masters Degree in mathematics and possessed a valid math certificate, was placed on-call while many people in the Cincinnati Public School district, including those with certificates in non-math related fields, were allowed to teach math classes on a regular basis without any valid math certification from the state. To substantiate his claim, Wang says a representative from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), of which Wang was a member, gave him a complete listing of math-teaching vacancies for the entire CPS district for the 2004-2005 school year that were allegedly filled internally with non-math certified teachers. Zhang provided the listing in its entirety.

The couple believes the motive was to let people in the CPS district have first shot at the jobs, even though they were non-math certified teachers, in order to save money and offset the enormous shortage of math teachers in the district. When Wang sent numerous complaint emails to related sources, copies of which were provided for this story, it greatly angered district officials; particularly Human Resources Chief Manager, Deborah Heater, who was the correspondent with Wang in the contentious emails. According to Zhang, “They retaliated by forcing him to take part in a disciplinary meeting on December 14, 2004 to reveal the name of the source who informed him that non-math certified teachers were working in the classrooms, but the school district couldn’t discipline him for anything because they knew he was telling the truth!” A copy of a letter from the CPS district office to Wang was provided to validate Zhang's statement. The content of the letter, dated December 14, 2004, stated the following:

Dear Mr. Wang,

As a condition of your H1-B visa, you will be returned to your position at AWL effective Wednesday, December 15, 2005. You will remain in this position until June 2005. When staffing activities for 2005-2006 are concluded at your school by February, you will know that status of your position for 2005-2006.

On January 10, 2005, your name will be included in the Superintendent's recommendations to the Board and you will be returned to long-term substitute status retroactive to September 27, 2004. After January 10, 2005, you will receive back pay to September 27, minus any pay you received as a daily substitute.

Finally, I need immediately your visa (from Canada) and Form I-94 (white card) for you and your family. Please bring these documents to me by 4:30 pm January 15, 2005. I will copy and return them to you.


Doris M. Stokes

Human Resources Specialist

Zhang mentioned that what happened next was completely shocking. “They tried to find something else to punish my husband for truth he had told. When attempts to paint him as a disgruntled employee failed, the school district asked him if he completed a requested trip to Canada for matters concerning his visa, which they knew was unnecessary. Godar arranged for this to be done. When my husband told them no, they stopped him from working again, without pay, on January 26, 2005. They did this despite the fact that my husband was told by a United States Customs and Immigration Service officer, 'Sharon', that the trip to Canada was unnecessary and unwarranted. The school district and Godar said the USCIS officer was wrong.” Wang and Zhang submitted a riveting piece of evidence that refuted the claims made by the school district and the attorney: an eight-minute recording of the actual conversation that took place on June 8, 2004 between Wang and the USCIS agent. The officer even provided Wang with her badge number, which was identified as 6135, and stated that all of Wang's papers were in order, that his approval notice was valid and that he was in good standing until August 18, 2006.

In an attempt to bring attention to their plight and what they believed was a major scandal within the Cincinnati Public School district, Zhang went to Washington, D.C. and protested in front of Capitol Hill on December 7, 2006. “When I protested in D.C., the complaint was on record. I believe the CPS district knew about it. Godar didn’t file the proper papers to update my visa in 2003 or 2004, which caused me to be charged by the USCIS,” stated Zhang. “My husband told the truth and complained publicly and formally to many officials and offices, such as former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine, current Senator George Voinovich, the County Commissioner and the Ohio Department of Education. He was confident that he was telling the truth and was willing to face the consequences for speaking out. So was I. That was why I was protesting in front of Capitol Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Education. Unfortunately, those we were speaking out against were too powerful.”

Zhang and child in front of the U.S. Supreme Court

In the end, Zhang said the school district and its attorney secretly sent a withdrawal application, a copy of which has been obtained, to revoke Wang's H1-B status in March of 2005. The application was approved on April 5, 2005. “So, he unknowingly was regarded as an illegal alien since April 5, 2005 and made the decision to leave the country,” Zhang tearfully explained. “When a complaint was made against the attorney for ethnics violation, Godar said she was only doing what the school district instructed her to do. My husband received a letter from Robert R. Berger, District Counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, indicating that no formal charges were going to be filed against Godar.

When asked why she was allowed to remain in the U.S., Zhang noted that her children were recognized as U.S. citizens. Therefore, remaining in the U.S. was not a problem for her. Then, according to Zhang, the situation got much worse. “When my husband had been illegally charged for overstaying since April 5, 2005, I was not charged. He left the country in 2007, and now I am being charged by the USCIS for overstaying since June 2, 2004 because of an illegal history created by the school district and Godar. I had been dependent on my husband in America. Godar should have submitted my documents with my husband's because she was in charge of all processing of our legal documents since September of 2003. She didn’t do it! She secretly created an illegal history for me, too.”

Wang was the only income source for the family when he was charged for overstaying. His wife contends he was denied all legal rights to work right after September 2006 and that his valid passport identification was withheld by USCIS on December 3, 2006. To make matters even worse, the couple received a phone call in 2006 from the Bureau of Child Welfare, while in Virginia, and was advised to provide their kids with a standard means of support or they would lose their parenthood rights. Given the extreme circumstances, Wang accepted all the charges and voluntarily left the country.

Within a matter of months, Zhang was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. No longer able to support her four children on $100 a week, she had no choice but to send them all to be with their father. “All of my children were born in America. The last time I saw my two smaller children, ages three and one, was July 2008. I saw the other two, ages seven and five, back in February of 2007. They are a few months older now,” said Zhang while wiping away tears. “I have no one in America. I am all alone. I couldn't be with my family on Thanksgiving, Christmas or when the American and Chinese New Year came. I'm all alone, and it's hurts me so much not to be with my husband and my children, and it's all because we told the truth.

An immigration hearing took place on March 9, 2009, and the judge set another hearing for June 18 because Zhang has not been able to obtain legal representation. It could take years before the case is ever decided. “According to U.S. immigration law, since I am charged by USCIS, I am required to stay in the country (legally) by the U.S. government. The fact is I'm forced to stay here. I cannot leave the country without resolving this charge. If I admit the charges on June 18, 2009, I will be permitted to leave the U.S. at that time. I will not do that because the charge against me, remaining in country after June 2, 2004 without authorization, is completely wrong! I was authorized by the Department of Homeland Security and the USCIS to stay here from October 2005 to October 2006. As evidence, a copy of Zhang's official identification, issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the USCIS, was provided.

The China native is currently in the process of trying to locate a better paying job. Although she is not being charged a penalty fee while staying in the U.S., she does have to pay $340 a year to apply for a work permit. If you would like to contact Zhang to offer assistance or services, you may email her at w345345y@hotmail.com.

In order to present a fair, balanced and accurate story, calls were placed and emails were sent, from December 4 to December 12, to all of the following:

The Cincinnati Public School District - to try and obtain contact information regarding former AWL principal Stephen Hoyt. A representative by the name of “Marita” indicated Hoyt left the school in 2004 and suggested Public Affairs Director, Janet Walsh be contacted for more information. After speaking with Walsh, she was uncertain as to whether or not she would be able to locate contact information for Hoyt and said she would call back. Several follow-up calls were never returned.

Former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine and Current Senator George Voinovich - to confirm a joint email sent to Wang from the senators indicating their investigation and conversation with USCIS officials revealed that the Cincinnati Public School Board was at fault and that the school’s attorney should have filed the necessary paperwork to upgrade Wang's legal status. A PDF copy of the joint email was sent to Voinovich's office for comments. DeWine left office in January of 2007, but on the evening of December 11 an email comment was sent from Voinovich's press secretary, Garrette M.K. Silverman. Silverman indicated that the senator's office was not at liberty to discuss the case.

Robert R. Berger, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel for the Supreme Court of Ohio - to discuss the decision regarding Wang’s claim that Cincinnati Public School Board attorney, Mary Godar, did not act in his best interest when she failed to submit the documents necessary that would allow him to remain in the U.S. Berger stated, “You need to be aware of the following. There are two types of cases that we deal with: those that are filed and investigated as official complaints and those that are looked at and dismissed. I do not recall the case you are referring to, which leads me to believe the case was probably dismissed. Therefore, I can neither confirm or deny the existence of the case, nor can I make any official comments because the latter cases are deemed confidential.” When informed that I was in possession of an official document from his office, which included his signature, indicating Godar did not inform Wang in time regarding his H1-B revocation, which was key for his legal status, Berger claimed he had no knowledge of the document. When the offer was made to email it to confirm the document’s authenticity, he again stated, “I can neither confirm or deny the existence of the case, nor can I make any official comments because the latter cases are deemed confidential. He declined to offer further comments.”

Mary. M. Godar, the law firm of Frost Brown Todd, LLC to obtain comments from Godar regarding Wang's allegation that she was the central figure in an elaborate cover-up by the Cincinnati Public School district to oust him. Her assistant, who indicated the attorney’s name was actually Peggy Godar, immediately suggested that a message be left on Godar’s voicemail. The voicemail confirmed the attorney’s name as Peggy Godar. A detailed message was left on voicemail and with the assistant informing Godar that the story would be posted the week of December 11 and that her comments, via email or phone, would be appreciated. Not one of the phone calls made was ever returned.

The Ohio Department of Education - to confirm whether or not teachers needed to be certified to teach math or any other subjects in the Cincinnati Public Schools district. Scott Blake, Director of Public Relations, responded a half-hour after the initial call was placed. Blake stated, unequivocally, that teachers must be certified and have a valid certification number, which is provided by the state. He also indicated that this has always been the policy and that teaching certificates and licenses were regarded as the same in the state of Ohio.

Photos courtesy of Xiao Ying Zhang