He’s a Local Pillar in a Trump Town. Now He Could Be Deported.
WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. — Ask residents of this coal-mining crossroads about President Trump’s decision to crack down on undocumented immigrants and most offer no protest. Mr. Trump, who easily won this mostly white southern Illinois county, is doing what he promised, they say. As Terry Chambers, a barber on Main Street, put it, the president simply wants “to get rid of the bad eggs.”
But then they took Carlos.
Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco — just Carlos to the people of West Frankfort — has been the manager of La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant in this city of 8,000, for a decade. Yes, he always greeted people warmly at the cheerfully decorated restaurant, known for its beef and chicken fajitas. And, yes, he knew their children by name. But people here tick off more things they know Carlos for.
How one night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort — the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city.
“I think people need to do things the right way, follow the rules and obey the laws, and I firmly believe in that,” said Lori Barron, the owner of Lori’s Hair A’Fairs, a beauty salon. “But in the case of Carlos, I think he may have done more for the people here than this place has ever given him. I think it’s absolutely terrible that he could be taken away.”
On Feb. 9, Mr. Hernandez, 38, was arrested by federal immigration agents near his home, not far from La Fiesta, and taken to a detention facility in Missouri. The federal authorities confirmed that he remained in custody, but would not comment on the precise reason for or timing of his arrest.
Immigration officials noted that Mr. Hernandez had two drunken-driving convictions from 2007, a circumstance that could make him a higher priority for deportation. Friends of his say he crossed into the United States from Mexico in the late 1990s and had started but never completed efforts to legalize his status.
As Victor Arana, a lawyer for Mr. Hernandez, began pressing in court to seek release for Mr. Hernandez on bond until his case can be heard, the community has rallied around him, writing pleas for leniency to the officials who will decide his fate.
Tom Jordan, the mayor of West Frankfort, wrote that Mr. Hernandez was a “great asset” to the city who “doesn’t ask for anything in return.” The fire chief described him as “a man of great character.”
The letters have piled up — from the county prosecutor, the former postmaster, the car dealer, the Rotary Club president. In his note, Richard Glodich, the athletic director at Frankfort Community High School, wrote, “As a grandson of immigrants, I am all for immigration reform, but this time you have arrested a GOOD MAN that should be used as a role model for other immigrants.”
This is an uncomfortable stance for a place like West Frankfort. This county, Franklin, backed Mr. Trump with 70 percent of the vote, largely on hopes, people here say, that he could jump-start the coal industry, which has receded painfully here over decades. Illegal immigration was by no means the most pressing issue for this overwhelmingly white area, residents say.
Still, many say they concur in principle with Mr. Trump’s wish to be more aggressive in blocking those who seek to sneak across the border. Things grew more tangled when principle met West Frankfort’s particular reality, in the form of Carlos.
Many people said they had no idea Mr. Hernandez lacked legal status until word of his arrest began spreading.