In their Rowlett home, Josie Villanueva and Jaime Rivadelo are living on borrowed time nearly a decade after they arrived in the U.S. for a new start.
“I was very hopeful, I was very positive, because the opportunity to work here and to earn is a big thing for us,” Jaime Rivadelo said.
They, along with Adeleida Legaspi, were among the 300 or so foreign teachers recruited by Garland ISD through a visa program later found to be fraudulent.
The district’s former human resources director, Victor Leos, was sentenced to two years in a federal prison. The district said the scheme cost it more than $3 million.
Garland ISD issued the following statement.
“Garland ISD was appalled to learn about the extent of the illegal and unauthorized actions taken by Mr. Leos in the trusted capacity he held with GISD. Throughout the investigation and Leos’ conviction and sentencing, Garland ISD fully cooperated with the relevant government agencies to seek justice for the affected teachers.”
But two years after the scheme was busted, these teachers argued they have not received the support they need to continue living the lives they’ve built in North Texas.
“We’re not asking for the immigration papers from them. What we only want is their support and their help,” Josie Villanueva said.
Though Villanueva’s still working for the district, Rivadelo, who she married after they both arrived in Garland, had his permit to work revoked. Now, he’s here on a visitor’s visa that will expire in June.
His only hope is to become a permanent resident thanks to his wife’s status as a green card holder. Still, they’re nervous whether it will happen.
“We’ve already established our life here. We have five grandkids that are going to be left behind,” Villanueva said.
Legaspi said her permit was set to expire in August, which would also mean the end of her job. She said she and her family would be forced back to the Philippines.
She’s now working with a lawyer to see if she qualifies for a trafficking visa, which she believes she qualifies for.
“We were recruited through recruitment. Second, there’s an element of fraud. And third, there’s debt bondage,” said Legaspi referencing the debt she incurred in fees to maintain her visa since arriving in 2006.
But GISD said it had addressed their concerns.
“The District has submitted responses and motions regarding the permanent work authorization petitions filed for those affected employees. If United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) affirms the revocation of the permanent work authorization petitions and places the affected employees in removal proceedings, the District, as authorized by its Board, is willing to assist as needed, within the confines of the law.”
Still these three are fighting to see GISD publicly acknowledge the affected teachers are victims, rather than participants in the fraud, while also asking for more support to make sure they’ve exhausted all of their options in their fight to stay and work in the U.S.