by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:
ATHENS, Ga. - Local students working to qualify for the Dream Act say their efforts may have been derailed.
They say the former director of an Athens nonprofit, The Athens Latino Center of Education and Services, took their money, messed up their federal applications, and ran.
Daniel Lopez, 29, of Winder, is among those students. Lopez told Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh he now faces an uncertain future.
Lopez told Kavanaugh in Spanish he came to Georgia with his family when he was 15. The undocumented Mexican immigrant came to work. School took a backseat to supporting the family. He says everything he knows is in Georgia and that's where he wants to stay.
The Dream Act allows people like Lopez to begin the path to citizenship. But "dreamers", as they're known, need a high school diploma, a GED, or need to be working toward a GED.
In October, Lopez signed up for classes at the Athens Latino Center of Education and Services, or ALCES. Every month, he paid cash to the former director, Jaime Umana. Umana is now on the run from Athens-Clarke County police. Investigators believe he used the nonprofit for his own gain. Police have issued seven arrest warrants for writing false statements. Those charges stem from a separate investigation tied to ALCES, but not the GED program.
Last week, Lopez received a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services citing a problem with his Dream Act application.
He wasn't the only student to get a rejection letter. ALCES said every single day, a student is walking in that door showing them a rejection letter of his or her own.
“They get top priority," says Matt Brewster, ALCES board chairman.
Brewster is among new leadership at the nonprofit. He says as each student comes forward, a new application letter is prepared to fix Umana's incomplete paperwork.
The board fired Umana in January after uncovering botched paperwork, poor records, and money missing from several programs, including the GED program.
"They were paying him in cash and we noticed that was not going toward the ALCES accounts,” Brewster said.
"All those fees were pretty much being pocketed by Umana,” said coordinator Natalie Bouyett.
ALCES says its program does meet the federal standards and they expect to get all its students back on track.
Lopez awaits his solution, telling Kavanaugh he doesn’t know what he'd do in Mexico when his whole life is here.
Investigators are searching for Umana. They say it’s possible he fled the state.