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‘He’s family’: Pineville community rallies around Spanish teacher as he faces deportation

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 3:00 PM EDT
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PINEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Ernesto Garcia has been a major part of Pineville Independent Schools, teaching Spanish for three years.

“This is a person that was born to be an educator,” said fellow teacher Ann Gaines.

Originally from Spain, Garcia is teaching in Kentucky through a partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education, helping bring teachers from other countries to teach foreign language.

“It’s an honor to have him with us,” said Gaines.

“Coming from a different country he was able to actually show us how different life is outside of Pineville Kentucky,” said senior student Whitney Caldwell.

With COVID-19, superintendent Russell Thompson, expected him to be able to stay another year, but when he submitted his application to extend his visa, it was denied.

They started a different visa application, and that was also denied, due to a typo.

“It was accidentally marked as a post secondary teacher instead of a secondary teacher,” said Thompson. “That’s what’s disheartening about it, when you have such a good man, great wonderful teacher that brings positive energy to our building every day. Our students love him.”

They filed an appeal, but got a letter back from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services saying the appeal was dismissed because it missed the deadline.

“Hopefully they can give us another option or another avenue to follow because we’re willing to do everything we can to keep this family here in our community and keeping him working with our students,” said Thompson.

Gaines says Garcia is a role model to every teacher and he has earned the right to be here.

“When you start hearing students talking about a teacher as they go by like, ‘You’ve got to take his class. He’s fabulous like we love him’ then you know that it is a privilege to be in his space.” said Gaines. “It’s an honor to have him with us and so yes we’ll fight for him. We sure will and he’s worth fighting for.”

His students say he taught them his culture, and is very interactive with them, helping them truly learn the language.

“Something that you wouldn’t see a teacher do like dancing in the middle of class. He’ll get up there and dance just so you can learn a couple of words,” said student Zack Mills.

“He’s just really helped not only me but he will be able to help the future generations coming up through Pineville,” said Caldwell.

Students at Pineville started a petition, trying to bring awareness to his situation, hoping to keep him here at the school. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had more than 1,500 signatures.

“They received me with open arms and it was warm very warm,” said Garcia.

Mills says losing Garcia, would be like losing a part of their family.

“Doesn’t matter what happens if we go back home it’s okay we will be fine because we have all this love we can live the rest of our lives with this,” said Garcia.

Thompson says the school as reached out to Hal Rogers and Mitch McConnell’s offices.

A spokesperson for Senator McConnell says the Senator’s office is aware of the situation and has been in contact with USCIS on behalf of the constituents who reached out to the office regarding the case.

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