WEST FRANKFORT — Supporters of Carlos Hernandez, the popular La Fiesta restaurant manager who was detained by immigration officials earlier this year, are hosting a fundraiser on Saturday to assist Hernandez in his legal pursuit to remain in the county with his family.
Iris Kohzadi, one of the organizers of the event, said that all donations will go directly toward Hernandez’s legal fees. Kohzadi said she and others put the fundraiser together because they wanted to help out a friend and community pillar who has given so much to others.
Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant, was arrested at his West Frankfort home on Feb. 9 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers after they came to his home looking for someone else. He was detained for several weeks at a facility an hour west of St. Louis awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge.
On March 1, Hernandez was released on bond, but his legal battle is far from over. Hernandez entered the country illegally over 20 years ago. He came to America at age 18 to help his family support a critically ill family member. He said he didn’t intend to stay, but over time he built a life here.
His wife, Elizabeth, and children are U.S. citizens. He has three young boys, and the two that are school age attend Frankfort Community Unit School District 168. The family is fighting to stay together. The two met at La Fiesta, where she also is employed. Hernandez said he has not been working since his arrest, but according to Hernandez and his attorney, once his work permit comes through, he will be able to resume his management role.
Kohzadi created a Facebook page to spread the word about the event, which has been titled “A Journey to US Citizenship.”
A message on the event page reads, in part, as follows:
“As you may or may not know, Carlos is in a legal battle trying to obtain his US Citizenship. With that being said the cost is significant for this battle, and we would like to help, and give those in our community and surrounding areas a chance to help as well. Carlos is a pillar of our community and we want him to stay a part of our community for as long as he can.”
The event is taking place from 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday at La Fiesta in West Frankfort. A tent will be set up in the back of the restaurant, and admission to the fundraiser is $5, she said. Food and drinks are separate. A buffet dinner will be available for purchase from 4 to 7 p.m., and customers also can order from the menu at any time. The event will include live music and a silent auction, she said.
Kohzadi said that Hernandez is a friend to many.
Kohzadi said her daughter is a member of the X-Treme dance team from Sloan Dance Studio in West Frankfort that finished first place in their division at the 2016 World Dance Championships. The competition was in Meadowlands, New Jersey, and at the time, Hernandez asked if he could sponsor the team by hosting fundraisers to help offset their travel expenses.
“It was completely unexpected so we were floored,” she said. But she said that was just what he did "for everybody," including sports teams, people facing illness and unexpected expenses and law enforcement, she said. With Saturday’s event, Kohzadi said his supporters are hoping to return the love and generosity he has showed them over the years.
Victor Arana, Hernandez’s Austin, Texas-based attorney, said that a scheduling hearing in Hernandez's case is set for Nov. 30 in Kansas City, Missouri. The merit hearing that will determine the outcome of his ability to stay in the U.S. will likely take place six to eight weeks after that, sometime in early 2018, he said.
Arana said he is pursuing a number of avenues that may allow Hernandez to stay in the U.S. The money raised on Hernandez's behalf will be used to offset expenses for experts that are assisting with his legal defense, he said.