What started out as a dream to come to America to have a better life has turned into a nightmare for about 70 Filipino teachers recruited by an official of the Garland Independent School District (GISD) in Texas in the United States.
According to its website, GISD is a public school system serving students that live in the cities of Garland, Rowlett and Sachse.
The 70 Filipinos were among 300 foreign teachers hired by GISD beginning 2005 through a visa program later found to be fraudulent.
They were promised green cards for them to legally work in the US but they never got the said document or received assistance to process it.
The perpetrator in the scheme, the district's former human resources director Victor Leos, was convicted of visa fraud in 2017 and sentenced to 2 years in federal prison.
Before the scam was uncovered, the victims were made to live in cramped rooms of Leos' stepson's house and charged them $2,400 a month for rent, well above the market rate.
For the Filipino victims, the devastating impacts are long lasting: revocation of status, unemployment, financial hardship, family separation, and health problems.
"The denial of my permanent residency application has greatly impacted our family. The inability to work has resulted in severe financial hardships. We were forced to sell our house to provide for daily needs," said Adelaida Legaspi, one of the victims.
Community groups such as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) have come to the aid of the Filipino teachers.
"The major concern of these people who are victims is they don’t know they are victims. They think they are part of the situation and they caused it themselves. So they don’t want to come out because they think they will be prosecuted too," said NAFCON secretary general Aurora Victoria David.
GISD has condemned the extent of the Leos' illegal and unauthorized actions and claimed that the district had fully cooperated with authorities to seek justice for the affected teachers.
But the victims claimed they never got any concrete support from the district school.
"We are doing this forum to seek support from the community and put pressure on GISD to act on the demands of the teachers and assist them," said David.
The victims are also seeking help from the Philippine government and from legal experts to see if they qualify for trafficking visas.
"I still believe in justice and hindi ako susuko (I won't give up)," Legaspi told ABS-CBN News.
The teachers have a petition on online platform Change.org seeking help against deportation.