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New $100,000 donation from Rauners' foundation could jumpstart Cairo Port project

CAIRO — A fresh infusion of hope came with the new year for the Cairo Port project in the form of a sizable donation from the Rauner Family Foundation.

In a news release from Cairo Public Utility on Wednesday, it was announced that Gov. Bruce Rauner and wife Diana Rauner’s foundation would be donating $100,000 to the project. Larry Klein, chairman of the Port District and general manager of CPU, said in the release this donation will allow them to drum up interest from shipping companies.

“This donation will give us the ability to create marketing materials and begin calling on companies in the next few months to secure their genuine interest in the Cairo Port,” Klein said in the release.

He also said that as more companies express interest in the port, which would be built on 160 acres along the Mississippi River-side of the city, it will open up more funding opportunities in 2018 and beyond.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, was also enthusiastic.

"The contribution from the Rauner Family Foundation is providing us with a great platform to move forward with our efforts to make this river port a reality for the people and communities of Southern Illinois," Fowler said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

According to the news release, The Port District has plans to start meeting with companies in the Midwest and Canada, targeting industries that currently use the river waterways and rail to move bulk products through the Gulf of Mexico — of specific interest are companies shipping seed grains, fertilizer, potash, coal and other, similar products.

There has been a lot of support for the project both from Washington and Springfield, not to mention in Alexander County. However in May, Fowler told the paper there was a need for about $1 million in “soft money” to pay for legal fees, permits and surveys before any real development could start.

On a visit to Cairo in May, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill said the DRA valued the project and could jump in at any point in its development, but said that soft money was needed before they could make any commitments.

In his email Wednesday, Fowler said through an aide that the donation would chip away at these costs.

Fowler has made Cairo a priority for his first term and is enthusiastic about what the port could mean for not just Cairo but the region.

"Downstate Illinois has such potential and so much to offer. I’m encouraged that we are gaining momentum on this project, taking steps toward revitalizing the region and placing Cairo and the surrounding communities on the road to recovery and economic growth," Fowler said.

He’s not alone.

“We’re a great state with great resources and even better people. We need to seize the opportunities to attract new jobs and businesses to Illinois,” Rauner said in the news release. “This is an investment in the future of southern Illinois and the state as a whole.”

“This Port will not only benefit Cairo and Alexander County, but it will help all of deep Southern Illinois prosper in the future by making it easier for farmers, mining companies and Industrial firms to get their products to market more efficiently and cost effectively than they do now,” Klein said in the press release.

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The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door
The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door: A trip to Mexico complicates his path to legal residency

WEST FRANKFORT — The year after returning to Mexico for his sister's funeral in 2002, about five years after he came to America by sneaking across the border with a friend, Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco made another visit to his home country.

The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door: About this mini-series

Early in 2017, Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco was unexpectedly thrust under an international spotlight when he was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and his story made international headlines. This mini-series, "The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door," aims to shed more light on Hernandez’s journey to America, his ongoing legal battle, his family, and the Southern Illinois community that offered its support to his case. The weeklong series kicked off on Dec. 31 with The Southern Illinoisan naming Hernandez as its "Person of the Year." The Southern chose Hernandez because his story puts a familiar face on a complex national debate playing out in our backyard, and illustrates the many ways in which immigration law, and rural America, are as messy as life itself. 

It is this decision that threatens to undo the quiet life he's built in Southern Illinois with his wife and three young children. They are American citizens, but he has been living in America without papers for 20 years. For more than a decade, after marrying his wife in 2007, he has attempted to gain legal status. But Hernandez said the decision he made in 2003 to return again has proven to be a major roadblock to his pursuit.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Carlos Hernandez stands with his older sons Gianluca (from left) and Kharloz, while his youngest son, Maximus Alexander, runs to his mother, Elizabeth Hernandez, at their home in West Frankfort on April 9, 2017.

By comparison, the friend he made the journey to Marion with in 1998 is a U.S. citizen today, according to Hernandez.

Not long after they arrived here, he married a U.S. citizen and she was able to sponsor him for legal residency, which eventually turned into citizenship, he said. Hernandez said his friend, however, never tried to return to Mexico, and though the path to citizenship was not without complications for him, it did eventually come to pass. 

As Hernandez made that 2003 trip that would later prove fateful, global security was undergoing an epic buckling-down phase.

It had only been two years since al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists hijacked four commercial airlines, causing the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, killing 2,977 people in New York City, the Pentagon, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

America was shaken. Security tightened at airports and other points of entry.

The country was hurting, and Hernandez hurt along with it. But life doesn't stop for tragedies; it merely pauses. Around this time, Hernandez, then in his mid-20s, was struggling with whether to go through with marrying his on-again-off-again fiancee, whom he loved, but wasn't sure was the one because they didn't always get along. According to Hernandez, she wanted him to travel to Mexico where they could talk things over, and then get married.

Though the 9/11 attackers were of Middle Eastern descent and none had entered the country by coming across the U.S.-Mexican border, the political sentiment at the time was that this could be viewed as a place of weakness for others wishing to harm the country.

Immigration enforcement bolstered 

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act. At the same time, Congress pumped huge sums of money into the various agencies that were moved under the umbrella of the newly created Department of Homeland Security, which are charged with such hefty tasks as national security, border patrol, citizenship and immigration services, and enforcement of immigration laws.  

Before 9/11, Bush was considered a moderate on immigration. Reform advocates were hopeful that his election in 2000 would bring with it an opportunity to address the complicated U.S. immigration system that had not seen significant reforms in 35 years, according to a 2011 report for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Migration Policy Institute.  

"He called for a new and large-scale temporary worker program, saw the growing Hispanic population as important swing voters, and met five times in nine months with Mexico's newly elected president, Vicente Fox," wrote Marc Rosenblum in the report titled, "US Immigration Policy Since 9/11: Understanding the Stalemate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform." In the wake of 9/11, the "war on terrorism" changed the nature of those discussions. 

Rosenblum's report continued, "But migration negotiations with Mexico collapsed following the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2011. In the post 9/11 period, Congress passed a series of tough measures to tighten border security and facilitate data collection and information sharing on suspected terrorists, and broadened the government's power to detain and deport immigrants."  

Hernandez said he met his then-fiancee in the U.S., but she was staying in Mexico at the time. Hernandez said they were planning to get married during his visit, as she insisted on a traditional wedding in Mexico near her family, and then would return together to America. Instead, not long after he arrived, they split up and decided to go their separate ways, he said. Hernandez said the relationship had been rocky for some time, and wasn't meant to be.

Hernandez said he always planned to return from that trip, either married or as a single man. Before he left, Hernandez said he told a friend who had a wife back in Mexico that he would bring her with him on his return trip so the two could be reunited. Together, they set out to sneak across the border. 

On this particular journey, Hernandez said they were attempting to use green cards that belonged to other people. “The more money you’ve got, the better your chances of getting across,” he said. “We paid $2,500 for the fake visas.” Hernandez said he made a promise to his friend that he would not cross the border without his friend’s wife.

At the border, he said, people stood in two lines that eventually fed into one. Once arriving near the front of the line, he said, there's no turning back. The friend's wife was up ahead of him, and as the officer looked over her visa, Hernandez said he felt his heart sink. "When they take more than 30 seconds to look at it, you're busted," he said. Hernandez said he jumped out of the line he was in to intentionally get apprehended alongside her. They were both questioned, booked and released, he said. He recalled telling the officer "I'll see you tomorrow." The next day they came back with different green cards and made it through the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint without disruption, he said.

Upon his arrest at his home in West Frankfort on Feb. 9 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, Hernandez said that 2003 incident showed up on his record. Hernandez said he was informed that when he was caught attempting to illegally cross the border in 2003, that barred him from seeking a legal route to enter the U.S. for 10 years. Hernandez said he was not made aware of this fact at the time, but only recently. But that he came here anyway aggravates his legal case, he said. 

After that close call, Hernandez did not make any trips back to Mexico, not even when his father died three years ago. His wife and children went to the funeral services, but Hernandez stayed behind.

Back in Marion from that bumpy 2003 trip, Hernandez said he threw himself into his work. 

The days turned into months and into years.

Hernandez turned to the bottle. Between losing his sister, the breakup, and being so far from his family and friends back home, Hernandez said he grew depressed at times, even though he had begun to make new friends in Southern Illinois. Hernandez said he drank socially, but also to numb his emotional pain.  

“No Christmas, no birthdays, no holidays with your family. Knowing you can’t go back. It builds up. It builds up — the only way out for me to cope with all of the emotions was drinking,” he said.

Climbing the ladder, drowning the sadness

Hernandez said his drinking problem became progressively worse. But he continued to achieve success at work. Not only did his English improve considerably and he no longer had to clarify whether a customer wanted “beef” or “chicken” by imitating the animal, as he did for months to get by waiting tables, but also Hernandez’s manager was giving him new and greater responsibilities regularly.

In 2001, not long before his sister passed away, he was named manager of the Marion restaurant, a position he held until 2004. In 2004, the year after he was busted at the border, Hernandez was part of a team sent to Benton as the La Fiesta chain expanded in the region. He helped open that location and then served as a manager there from 2004 to 2007. In 2007, about a decade after he arrived in the U.S., he was tapped again to open another La Fiesta, in West Frankfort, where he’s been the manager since. He met his wife there, and they were married that September. 

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

The older boys, Kharloz and Gianluca, play a game with their mother Sunday, April 9, 2017. She taught them the game that she learned as a child in Mexico.

There were many good things going on in his life, but Hernandez said he continued to drink more than he should. It took him a while to recognize that his drinking had crossed the line, he said. 

His problem with alcohol came to a head in 2007 when he was arrested and convicted twice in the same year for drunken driving. Hernandez said his second arrest was a wake-up call. A few years later, he went to counseling and joined a support group. Hernandez said he began to work through some of the anger he had buried deep inside himself about his abusive father whose shortcomings left him to provide for the family when he was still just a boy.

For the first time in his life, Hernandez said he learned to begin to let go of a lot of the pain he’d been carrying around all of these years and find healthier ways of coping.

Slowly, the weight of what he had been through as a young person began to lift from his shoulders. He looked for more constructive outlets to his daily frustrations, and began to socialize more.

It didn’t happen overnight, but as the years ticked on, in this conservative little community known for coal mining and furniture stores and Redbird athletics — in a place he could have imagined building a life, yet alone loving it — Hernandez began to feel at home. Less than two years after he married his wife, Elizabeth, the two welcomed their first son into the world. Now, that little boy is 9 years old. 

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, wearing a shirt supporting law enforcement, watches his family play outside at home in West Frankfort on Tuesday, April 9, 2017.

Over time, he became closer to many of the regulars that came by for food — the school teachers, the coal miners, the law enforcement officers, local business owners and others. They asked about his babies; he asked about theirs. He held benefits for people who were sick, for sports teams in need of uniforms, to help a dance team travel to nationals, to support the local fire department, and for countless other causes.  

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Carolos Herandez kisses La Fiesta patron Nita Haney on the top of her head. Haney and Mary Summers were eating at the restaurant Tuesday, April 11, 2017, and say they are regulars. They say they have known Hernandez for many years and knew him when he was first working at the restaurant's Marion location. 

ICE comes knocking

Fast-forward to the election of President Donald Trump, who promised during the campaign to crack down people living in the country illegally, particularly those with criminal records. Those two DUIs Hernandez received in 2007 — both misdemeanors — came back to haunt him, even though he said he hasn’t had a drop to drink in seven years. 

Hernandez said ICE officials have knocked on his door before looking for other people they thought he might know. But in the few times it happened in the past, they left Hernandez alone, even though they knew he was here illegally. He wasn’t considered a high priority for immigration enforcement, which has for years been under a mandate to detain people with certain serious criminal histories, mostly felony convictions. 

But when the ICE officials knocked on his door in February to ask about another man they were seeking — Hernandez said he knew of the man, but did not know him well — they ran a background check on him, as is typical. This time he was arrested. Hernandez said the ICE officials told him that with Trump in office, policies had changed, and the two DUIs could no longer be overlooked. 

On Jan. 25, just days into the presidency, Trump signed an executive order expanding enforcement priorities for immigration officers. The American Immigration Council described the "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States" order as outlining priorities "so broadly as to place all unauthorized individuals at risk of deportation, including families, long-time residents and 'Dreamers' (those who were brought to this country as children)." 

Hernandez said the exchange with ICE officials was polite. They let him call his wife and tell her he would not be home when she arrived back at the house from work. He was detained in an immigration detention center about an hour west of St. Louis, where he spent about a week. It was during a hearing before an immigration judge that his detainment at the border in 2003 surfaced, he said. 

mollyjaneparker / Provided -- Facebook  

After Hernandez was arrested, several people in West Frankfort updated their Facebook profile pictures to one of Carlos with the words, "I stand with Carlos" underneath. 

His youngest son turned 2 while he was behind bars. Unbeknownst to him, a number of people from his hometown organized to do what they could to help his case. Numerous people expressed their support on social media by changing their profile picture to one of Hernandez to include the words "I stand with Carlos." The story of a conservative community that backed Trump in the election supporting an unauthorized immigrant with such vigor was picked up by local media, and then the New York Times, after which it spread around the world.

But behind bars and without internet access, Hernandez would not come to understand the full extent of his newfound fame for days.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Carlos Hernandez poses with organizers of a benefit for him and his family, Nicky Bowers (left) and Iris Kohzadi. The benefit was held Saturday, June 24, 2017, at La Fiesta restaurant in West Frankfort.

The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door: About this mini-series

Early in 2017, Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco was unexpectedly thrust under an international spotlight when he was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and his story made international headlines. This mini-series, "The Undocumented Immigrant Next Door," aims to shed more light on Hernandez’s journey to America, his ongoing legal battle, his family, and the Southern Illinois community that offered its support to his case. The weeklong series kicked off on Dec. 31 with The Southern Illinoisan naming Hernandez as its "Person of the Year." The Southern chose Hernandez because his story puts a familiar face on a complex national debate playing out in our backyard, and illustrates the many ways in which immigration law, and rural America, are as messy as life itself. 

Carbondale City Council adopts new sexual harassment policy

CARBONDALE — Amid several sexual misconduct allegations occurring throughout the country, the Carbondale City Council adopted an sexual harassment policy.

On Nov. 16, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Public Act 554, which mandated that each governmental unit pass an ordinance or resolution establishing a policy to prohibit sexual harassment.

Carbondale’s ordinance defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or any conduct of a sexual nature when the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.

The policy also states that submission to or rejection of such conduct cannot be used as the basis for an employment decision, nor can such conduct have the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. 

The conduct in the policy includes — but is not limited to — verbal, nonverbal, visual, physical and electronic forms of harassment.

Councilman Jeff Doherty took a slight issue with part of the procedure for reporting an allegation of sexual harassment. The policy says “an employee who either observes sexual harassment or believes herself/himself to be the objects of sexual harassment should deal with the incident as directly and firmly as possible by clearly communicating her/his position to the offending employee.”

Doherty said the word “should” emphasizes is going to be taken as something the employee must do and could lead to unfavorable situations.

“I think that, as we have seen in many, many cases, that have come about recently nationally, that’s not always a good situation for somebody to do that or they feel powerless to do that,” he said. “People are going to feel like that is what they should do, rather than going to a third party.”

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry had other thoughts on the matter.

“I think it is a good idea that the person being harassed state that very directly at the time it is going on,” he said. “I think that with what is going around now, this has to be very up front and direct. The person doing the harassing needs to know immediately to stop.”

Ultimately, the language stayed in the ordinance. The policy was unanimously approved at the most recent City Council meeting. 


Carbondale City Hall is shown in November 2017.  

Isaac Smith / The Southern File Photo 

A group of federal, state and local leaders look out over the Ohio River in May as they toured Cairo and discussed a future Mississippi River Port in the city.