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WEST FRANKFORT, Unwell. — The primary time I got here to this small Southern Illinois metropolis, in February, the individual I used to be right here to write down about — Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco — was nowhere to be discovered. He was locked up in a Missouri detention facility.
Mr. Hernandez had been arrested for being undocumented, amid a nationwide dialog over President Trump’s guarantees to crack down on unlawful immigration.
So every part I realized throughout that go to about Mr. Hernandez — simply Carlos to the eight,000 residents of West Frankfort — got here from his neighbors right here, in a neighborhood that had voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump. Their views on Mr. Hernandez felt like a uncommon likelihood to take a look at the difficult, surprising ways in which federal coverage was enjoying out inside one city.
In letters to the immigration court docket that would resolve whether or not he will probably be deported, influential residents raved about Mr. Hernandez, somebody most individuals on this largely white coal-mining crossroads had not realized had been residing right here with out papers for about 20 years.
West Frankfort’s mayor, Tom Jordan, referred to as him a “nice asset” to the town who “doesn’t ask for something in return.” The hearth chief described him as “a person of nice character.” The advice that will have caught with me most got here from a resident who confided that he actually didn’t like having many individuals in his life in any respect however Mr. Hernandez was the uncommon exception, somebody who was welcome at his residence for dinner.
This month, I returned to West Frankfort. I needed to know what neighborhood leaders like Mayor Jordan had been pondering now. And I needed to fulfill Mr. Hernandez after listening to all these tales — about how he at all times requested after peoples’ members of the family by their names on the Mexican restaurant he managed; how he donated scholarships to the native highschool; how he hosted fund-raisers to help native cops.
Mr. Hernandez, who was launched on a $three,000 bond in March on the promise he would return to court docket at a later date, sat at his kitchen desk the opposite day within the trim home he shares along with his spouse, Elizabeth, and their three younger sons. No, he advised me, he had not learn all these glowing letters about him.
He was grateful and humbled when he emerged from a number of weeks in detention to seek out out in regards to the avalanche of help. However he was additionally slightly uncomfortable understanding that individuals had been ticking off tales about acts of charity that he had by no means meant to be public.
He was surprised, he recalled, when he turned on his cellphone the day he was launched from the detention facility. “It was like, ‘Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!’”
Emails flooded in from around the globe. Supporters wrote to say that Mr. Hernandez’s acts of civic accountability over 20 years ought to matter greater than how he acquired right here from Mexico. Loads of critics wrote, too: Some mentioned legal guidelines had been legal guidelines and famous that Mr. Hernandez additionally had two drunken-driving convictions from 2007; some fellow Latinos considered him as betraying or rejecting Mexico.
However in West Frankfort, emotions about Mr. Hernandez appear to not have modified a lot, and life has moved on.
At a panel I moderated inside the town’s previous firehouse, I heard from each neighborhood leaders and longtime residents that questions in regards to the financial system are inclined to eclipse issues like immigration round right here.
Folks appeared extra nervous about the way forward for coal, on which the world has depended; about hopes for some new main employer; about whether or not younger individuals, dreaming of respectable jobs, will keep put; in regards to the pressure that state fiscal woes have positioned on this a part of Illinois; and in regards to the flood of medication that the native sheriff, Don Jones, mentioned had some position within the lives of practically all 114 inmates in his jail.
“I like the coal trade,” mentioned Jim Muir, the county’s circuit court docket clerk, who spent nearly 20 years working at a coal mine, beginning when he turned 18. “However I don’t assume it can ever be again to the place it was.”
Mayor Jordan mentioned West Frankfort was “constructed on coal,” and acknowledged individuals within the viewers who had labored within the mines or had been kids of those that had. The area’s problem, most imagine, is discovering a thriving financial path ahead.
“We don’t actually become involved in a whole lot of immigration points in West Frankfort,” Mr. Jordan mentioned.
For Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, although, these questions are removed from answered. His subsequent court docket date has been set for April 19, 2021.
It’s a date he says he thinks about endlessly. He swerves from depressing (if he’s deported, his household will stay right here) to hopeful (perhaps a decide will enable him to remain). On the one hand, he’s counting right down to what he sees because the equal of an execution date; on the opposite, he feels he has been granted valuable time.
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