The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Translator returning to city schools
BY LINDLEY ESTES
Andrea Ilardia had a really good summer. And she’s happy to be back at work for Fredericksburg city schools as students arrive this morning.
A Spanish translator at Hugh Mercer Elementary and Lafayette Upper Middle schools, Ilardia did not know if she was going to be able to come back this year because her immigration status was up in the air.
But on June 23, she received a letter saying that the U.S. government would defer action on her immigration status for another two years.
“I started to run and cry,” said Ilardia, a native of Uruguay. “I was not expecting it that day. I couldn’t believe it. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. I’ve worked for so long. I don’t have words to describe it.”
After that, she was granted a driver’s license, and last Thursday, she received her “employment authorization document,” allowing her to go back to work at the city schools.
Ilardia came to the United States with her husband and children in 2001 on his visa.
He passed away from cancer in 2009, and since then she has had to appeal to the Department of Homeland Security to keep her family here.
Before the documents came through, Ilardia was worried about having to go back to South America. In addition, she could not be paid for her work at local schools and could not drive.
Her efforts to stay here began in November 2011, when she tried to renew her previous “deferred action status” and work permit.
Since then, she hasn’t been content to wait around for a response.
She made multiple trips to Washington D.C., presented petitions and contacted politicians for support.
“It was a miracle,” Ilardia said. “I thought they were going to say ‘no’ with all of the talk, even with the support.”
The largest pool of support was from city schools and the Fredericksburg community.
Kadie David, a teacher at Hugh Mercer, began a petition that had more than 400 signatures. Other teachers wrote letters on Ilardia’s behalf.
And when she was not able to work and could not pay her rent, The Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg helped out.
“We survived because the people in the community helped me,” Ilardia said.
The Rev. Patrick Dennis, associate pastor at The Presbyterian Church, said Ilardia is active in the congregation, and members came together because they know her so well.
“It is inspiring when churches that are relatively large are able to coalesce around an individual family in their time of need and walk with them,” he said.
Church members helped her with rent and provided transportation.
He said her story is a good example for the community and shows that no one stands alone.
Sen. Mark Warner was one of the elected officials who helped Ilardia.
Kevin Hall, communication director for the Virginia Democrat, said staffers wrote letters and stayed on top of the issue.
“We’re very pleased that her application has been approved,” Hall said.
He noted that Ilardia’s situation was one that resonates with Warner because of his support of targeted visa reform.
Ilardia said that staying in the United States is important because she loves her work in local schools and because her children have more opportunity here.
When she wasn’t able to be paid for her work in the school system, she volunteered her time.
“I don’t have the papers to say I’m American, but I am American in my heart,” she said.
Ilardia has four children: 17-year-old Belen, 15-year-old Florencia, 12-year-old Camila and 9-year-old Nicholas.
She said the uncertainty about her visa wasn’t easy on them.
“It’s different when you’re a child and not knowing what’s going to happen the next day,” Ilardia said. “I think they’re grateful they get to go to school and have a normal life.”
She said she wants all of her children to go to college in America and have the opportunities through education.
Belen wants to be an engineer, while Florencia has aspirations in psychology, Camila has shown interest in medicine and Nicholas says he wants to be a lawyer, and then president of the United States.
“I want to thank everyone who helped us,” she said. “There are so many names it would be impossible for me to names them. It’s one step closer to staying. One step closer to our dream to be Americans.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976