He’s a Local Pillar in a Trump Town. Now He Could Be Deported.
“I knew he was Mexican, but he’s been here so long, he’s just one of us,” said Debra Johnson, a resident. She said she saw a distinction between “people who come over and use the system and people who actually come and help.”
Not everyone feels Mr. Hernandez should be treated unlike anyone else without permission to be here. As friends have gathered words of support for him through an email address — [email protected] — other messages have arrived there, too. “Carlos is probably a nice man, but he broke our country’s law,” one email read. Some critics point to the two drunken-driving cases. (His friends say he quit drinking after that.)
Asked about Mr. Hernandez, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement that read, in part: “Every day, as part of routine operations, ICE officers target and arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws.”
After a report of his detention appeared in a local newspaper, The Southern Illinoisan, some comments were pointed:
“No U.S. citizen is above the U.S. law! If a U.S. citizen breaks a law they go to jail or prison! No illegal alien is above the U.S. law!”
And: “I get that this man has been here for years and years and has contributed to society, but he isn’t LEGAL, therefore the U.S. has every right to throw him out.”
And: “A couple thousand down, millions to go.”
Around West Frankfort, some people grow quiet when asked whether some undocumented people should be granted exceptions.
“With everything that’s gone on — we’ve had years of unemployment rates that are skyrocketing — I would like to see some of the people that I know go back to work before I worry about people from other countries coming here and making a better life for themselves,” said Audrey Loftus, 38, a bartender at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
But Mr. Hernandez, Ms. Loftus said, has left her “on the fence” about what should happen now. “I hate to use the word rednecks, but this is southern Illinois,” she said. “This is the definition of a good old boys’ club, and you don’t have a lot of people of different ethnicities that are in this area.
“And then there’s Carlos,” she continued. “You will not find a single person that has anything bad to say about him.”
Mr. Hernandez’s lawyer said that a hearing was expected in his case on Wednesday and that he was hoping Mr. Hernandez might be released on bond as any legal action went forward.
His wife, Elizabeth Hernandez, who attained United States citizenship late last year, according to Mr. Arana, said she was struggling to sleep, since her husband was detained. The couple has three sons, the youngest 2.
“What I’m really worrying about,” she said in a telephone interview, “is what am I going to tell my three boys if he can’t stay here?”
Tim Grigsby, who owns a local printing shop and considers Mr. Hernandez one of his closest friends, has been helping to lead the efforts to bring Mr. Hernandez back to West Frankfort. He said he had always known that Mr. Hernandez did a lot around town. But he said that even he did not grasp the scope of it all until the letters started flowing in.
There was the pastor who described Mr. Hernandez helping at a funeral, the family that remembered him raising hundreds of dollars for its son’s hearing aid, the businessman who said that he was mostly a private person but that Mr. Hernandez was one of the few people he invites over for dinner.
Mr. Grigsby said he still would vote for Mr. Trump. One never agrees with everything a politician does, “but maybe this should all be more on a per-case basis,” he said. “It’s hard to be black and white on this because there may be people like Carlos.”