A letter distributed by a private language school in East San Diego that disparages a neighboring community college and makes racial remarks about its students has outraged educators and community leaders.
The letter from the College Prep English Language Institute warned its students that they risked deportation and exposure to tuberculosis if they took additional classes at the East San Diego Community College Continuing Education Center.
"The type of adults who attend these classes are illegal, and often illiterate, refugees and immigrants," wrote institute director Silva Jurich. "They are not your caliber of people socially or economically for the most part."
At a press conference Friday at the Continuing Education Center, program director Dr. Robert Matthews distributed copies of Jurich's letter and attacked it as elitist and racist.
'Elements of Racism'
"The director, or whoever wrote this letter, wrote it in elitist fashion with elements of racism cropping up," Matthews said. "Such misinformation has harmed the morale of those working here."
Community leaders are demanding an apology from the school, a retraction of what they say were errors in the letter and an evaluation of the legitimacy of the institute as an educational institution.
"We are grateful for the strong support shown by the community regarding this issue," he said, referring to representatives of the Black Network Alliance and the Chicano Federation and a spokeswoman for Assemblyman Peter Chacon (D-San Diego) who attended the press conference.
The letter was distributed in class to students at the private school, which serves about 30 foreigners visiting the United States to learn English. The student body is largely Swiss, but includes students from Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and Peru.
About 20 of those students were taking additional classes at the East San Diego center.
Jurich, who described herself as a Yugoslavian immigrant, said in an interview later that her letter was misinterpreted, and she expressed anger at not having been invited to the press conference.
Stands by Letter
"Yes, I wrote the letter, and I stand by it," she said. "But I realize it could be misinterpreted by those who want to hang somebody. For such people I think there are statements in the letter that can be used as ammunition.
"But if there was a problem, they should have come to see me. If I had been invited, I would have gone and explained my letter. I feel like a person who is being held on trial but who is not present . . . that I'm being accused, but I don't know who my attackers are."
Community leaders at the press conference said they were troubled about several items in the letter, which they described as blatant lies.
The letter informed students, "You may not attend, under immigration rules, these adult (continuing education) schools. If you do so, you risk having your visa revoked and never again being able to enter the U.S."
According to Matthews, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service issues appropriate schools official documents that allow such schools to accept foreign students.
Such students accepted under the so-called I-20 guidelines must remain enrolled in the school to stay in the United States. Matthews said discontinuing their education can result in deportation. However, he added, the I-20 does not forbid students to take additional classes at another institution, like the continuing education center, as long as they do not drop their course load at the approved institution. Matthews said none of the students had left the private school.
In addition to the warning in the letter, Roger Breitenstein, 22, a student who lives near Zurich, Switzerland, said Jurich spoke to a group of students.
"She told us we could be deported if we stayed with the classes (at the center). I was afraid I may never come back to the United States," he said. Breitenstein--who said he paid $6,900 for air fare, tuition and room and board for six months--took the additional classes because the private school was "not so good," he said. "I think it's junk."
Jurich said she was only trying to inform her students about the possibility of deportation and said, "I wanted them to respect the immigration laws and warn them about breaking them." She added that the continuing education center's courses, which are free, are funded by taxpayers and are meant for American immigrants, not foreigners. The latter were meant to attend schools such as hers, she said.
Kyle Conroy, who teaches one of the advanced English classes at the center, said she instructed 11 students from the private school.
"I tried to tell them that they wouldn't be deported, to persuade them that it was OK to take classes here. But six of them left because they were afraid," she said.
Illiteracy Claim Disputed
Conroy also disputed Jurich's claim that the center's classes were filled with illiterates and that they would hamper the learning process.