WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. (CBS News) — An undocumented immigrant whose arrest pushed an Illinois town into the center of the national immigration debate has been freed from a detention center.
Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco was released Wednesday on $3,000 bond. Immigration agents took him into custody last month.
His detention led to an outcry from residents and elected officials – many of them supporters of President Trump – in West Frankfort. The president won the county with more than 70 percent of the vote.
About 8,000 people live in West Frankfort, and judging by the response, many of them know Hernandez. They say he’s an important member of the community, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. The question is: Will he be allowed to stay?
The community raised money to bring their friend home in style to his family after nearly three weeks in detention. He’s an undocumented immigrant they claim as one of their own.
“First of all, I think I need to be grateful,” Hernandez said, hours after his release.
“Because why?” Werner asked.
“For all of the support,” Hernandez responded.
Tim Grigsby and Mark Williams are his friends. They said they’ve known him for more than 10 years.
“He’s one in a million, I think,” Williams said. “If you were gonna model someone off of, whether it be your own children or yourself, I mean he’s that type of person.”
Hernandez has lived in southern Illinois for nearly 20 years. On Feb. 9, immigration officers arrested him at his home. They were looking for someone else, but found he was here illegally.
“Did you ask him why?” Werner asked.
“For my previous record,” Hernandez said.
In a statement, ICE pointed to Hernandez’ two convictions for DUI in 2007. He’s now sober. But under the previous administration, experts said those misdemeanor offenses likely would not have gotten him picked up.
People in West Frankfort, many of whom came to greet him Wednesday night at the restaurant he managed, wrote letters of support to the mayor, police officials, and people he’s helped with fundraisers and donations.
“This is the person that I would put right there on that pedestal,” Grigsby said. “Everyone should be looking at him and going you know what? I need to be more like Carlos.”
Under Trump administration directives, experts said he’s also now the type of person who may be deported.
“When Mr. Trump talked about deporting more people, who did you think he was going to deport?” Werner asked Hernandez’s friends.
“Well, I mean obviously it was murderers and rapists and you know, people like that,” Grigsby said. “Well, that’s obviously not Carlos.”
Hernandez himself said he doesn’t blame the president.
“He’s protecting the country,” he said. “I’ve got three kids and a wife. They are American citizens. I do believe he’s doing the right thing. … He’s protecting my family.”
“He’s protecting your family? Even despite what just happened to you, you think that?” Werner asked.
“But it has nothing to do with him. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that he focused on me. I’m not a target. I don’t feel that way,” Hernandez said.
For now, he’s out on bond while his application to stay works its way through the immigration system. His lawyer told us he is hopeful that Hernandez will have a good chance because his wife is a U.S. citizen, as are his children.