Although they didn’t receive the hoped-for outcome from the U.S. Department of Labor, former Culpeper County Spanish teachers Leo and Gabriela Legora appear to be in good spirits, if filled with trepidation.
The couple, along with their young daughters and the family pets, arrived safely on Dec. 29 in their new home—Santiago, Chile. They’re staying with Gaby’s family until they find an apartment or home to rent.
“Desde el país al sur del mundo, Chile,” Gaby wrote shortly after their 5,000-mile journey. “Les saludo a todos”—Greetings from the country south of the world. I salute you all.
On Thursday, Gaby said, “It’s always good to be with family. Today is my daddy’s birthday. First time in years I can be here with him. Undoubtedly, it’s been rewarding to feel hugs long awaited from friends and family, but ... I can frankly say I’m scared.”
After an ongoing fight to remain in the U.S. failed, the educators left Culpeper three days after Christmas.
The Legoras, whose last official day working for Culpeper County Public Schools was Dec. 22, spent the days leading up to their departure tackling a mountain of details—health certifications for the pets, travel paperwork for Leo, who is from Argentina, shipping their belongings, selling items through an online yard sale site and more.
Gaby says she needs full-time work soon to provide schooling for Victoria, 6, and Annie, 5, both American citizens. The education system in Chile differs from that of the U.S. and she’d prefer the girls attend a private school.
Leo was offered a part-time position teaching English in the school where Gaby taught 13 years ago in Santiago, but his immigration status in Chile makes a full-time job hunt more complicated, he said.
Their house in Culpeper near Ira Hoffman Lane is still on the market. An offer made on the house in mid-December fell through and, according to Leo, they’d still maintained hope for a last-minute reprieve from the government. Now, they’ll have to manage the sales transaction from afar.
The Department of Labor in Atlanta did not respond to a Dec. 6 letter from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine seeking assistance for the two teachers.
“I am concerned that the Legoras’ applications did not receive due process and that their denials stem from a clerical error made by the Department of Labor,” the senator wrote.
Kaine also pointed to a previous letter sent to the labor department from Congressman Dave Brat. The DOL did respond to Brat’s inquiry, stating that the matter could no longer be revisited because the Legoras’ teaching jobs had been filled.
“My office has confirmed with the school system that they have not,” Kaine wrote. “My office has been in contact with Culpeper County Schools, who assure us that if the Department of Labor reconsiders the Legoras’ applications, the Culpeper County Schools will welcome them back.”
Kaine called the Labor Department’s error “troubling.”
CCPS Director of Human Resources Michelle Metzgar confirmed this week that both positions are now filled with fulltime, licensed teachers.
Last summer, the U.S. Department of Labor closed their applications for “PERM” status—the first step to earning a Green Card—claiming that their audit paperwork was not received on time.
The couple provided proof of delivery of the audit paperwork supplied by their sponsor, Culpeper County Public Schools, to the USDOL in Atlanta; however, the department in early December declined to reopen their case and informed them all administrative remedies had been “exhausted.”
Their original applications sat in appeal for four years before they were denied based on the missing audit information.
On Nov. 29, the Department of Labor advised the Legoras that if they remained in the U.S. beyond Dec. 31, they would be subject to removal.
Rather than risk possible deportation, the family left. Still unknown is whether they could return to the U.S. if the labor department revisits their case. Without employer sponsors, securing a “Green Card” isn’t possible and they don’t qualify for any other visa categories having already exhausted the lifetime limit of six years on an H1-B permit.
Gaby said she hasn’t gotten used to the drastic weather change—it’s summertime in Chile—and she keeps seeing the faces of friends left behind.
“I miss you all,” she said.
Neighbor Kimberly Morris described arriving to take Gaby to the airport on Dec. 28 to check in early and deliver the animals. Leo drove separately, a little later in the morning, with the girls.
“Annie was wide awake and ready for travel,” Morris said. “Victoria, sound asleep. Leo was running around making sure everything was in place. Gaby printing out the tickets.”
Morris brought her 11-year-old twins, Iliana and Aidan, over to say their last goodbyes to their friends.
“We’ve been neighbors since 2008 and they were always the kindest most generous people we knew,” she said. “We got lucky!”
“I, unfortunately, got super sick that morning and kept having to pull over on the ride to the airport and eventually Gaby says, ‘You know, I could drive for you if you want.’ I felt awful that she had to offer but it was necessary,” Morris said. “I wanted to be the one to keep her in a positive spirit on the ride but she was trying to do that for me instead.”
At the departure area, Morris said, they were all able to say their good-byes.
“But not forever,” she noted. “They’ll always be my friends that were more like family.”