The residents of a small town in southern Illinois should have taken President Trump seriously and literally.
The majority white town of West Frankfort is in a county that went strongly for Trump, according to a piece in The New York Times, largely due to the belief that it would bring coal jobs back to their struggling local economy: "Illegal immigration was by no means the most pressing issue for this overwhelmingly white area, residents say."
But the Department of Homeland Security is escalating its enforcement mechanisms to detain and deport more undocumented immigrants, another campaign promise kept, and a man who is a local fixture in the community has been arrested. Now Juan Carlos Hernandez Pachecoa, who owns a Mexican restaurant in the town of around 8,000, is waiting to hear if he will be deported, and many of his neighbors are having second thoughts about Trump's draconian immigration agenda.
From the Times:
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.”
The support isn't uniform, though. After a local paper published the news of Hernandez's detention, some community members responded with things like: “No U.S. citizen is above the US law! If a US citizen breaks a law they go to jail or prison! No illegal alien is above the US 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.”
These latter comments are far more in line with the deportation priorities under this administration, which have both expanded the definition of criminality to increase the scope of deportations and signaled that collateral arrests—detaining undocumented immigrants who are present at a raid targeting others—will likely be a common occurrence.
Many of the white residents of West Frankfort seem surprised that Trump meant what he said about immigration, or that the machinery of mass deportation harms real people—sometimes even people they know and love. (There is no earthly reason they should be surprised by this.) One woman, after watching what happened to Hernandez, said she is now "on the fence" about what should happen next.
Hernandez's wife, Elizabeth, is focused on other things.
“What I’m really worrying about,” she told the Times, “is what am I going to tell my three boys if he can’t stay here?”