"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.
"They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us.
"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
— President Donald J. Trump, on the campaign trail in 2015
Crowds at Donald Trump rallies cheered fiery rhetoric such as this during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration was a large part of his appeal.
But, what happens when rhetoric meets reality?
Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, 38, of West Frankfort, was recently caught up in that intersection. Pacheco, manager of La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant in West Frankfort, was recently detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials.
He was detained several weeks before being released on bond Wednesday.
Pacheco’s plight has cast a human light on the policy, a light that has some Southern Illinois residents rethinking their views on immigration — policy has a much different feel when it affects a friend, not just a nameless person 1,000 miles away.
Even President Trump knows many undocumented immigrants would bear us no ill will.
For more than a decade, Pacheco, his family and his business have been vital parts of the West Frankfort community. The family and the business have sponsored youth athletic teams, supported West Frankfort High School athletics and recently hosted a Blue Lives Matter fundraiser. La Fiesta has served as the meeting place for West Frankfort Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheons.
It does need to be pointed out that Pacheco previously ran afoul of the law. The Department of Homeland Security stated Pacheco has two DUI convictions from 2007. ICE has pointed to those convictions as the reason he remained detained.
And, to be totally fair, friends say Pacheco sought treatment after those arrests and no longer drinks.
Which takes us to the bottom line — Pacheco put a local face on a national problem.
According to reporting by this newspaper, many West Frankfort residents weren’t aware that Pacheco had never obtained U.S. citizenship. Yet, although the Franklin County community supported Trump heavily during the past election, most citizens rallied around their friend and neighbor, writing letters asking the court to allow Pacheco to remain in the United States.
“He’s one of my best friends and I know a lot of things that he does in the community,” said Tim Grigsby, owner of Simple Solutions Printing in West Frankfort. “But, some of the letters we have received, from people whose lives that he’s touched and the things he’s done that nobody knows about, is incredible.”
The support shown for Pacheco by the community is an important lesson, an important reminder that all politics are, indeed, local. The decisions made in Springfield and Washington affect human beings, they affect families. The laws affect people all of us know and love.
While the fiery rhetoric may sound enticing during a political campaign, Pacheco’s case makes it clear that the country needs to move forward with an immigration policy that serves the best interests of the country, but also protects people who have assimilated themselves into the fabric of American society. People who come to the country outside of the proper channels violate U.S. law. There are a few out there with bad intentions who don’t deserve to be here.
Pacheco’s case illuminates the immediate need for a streamlined path toward legal status, and not just because he lives in our neighborhood, but because he has embraced life in his community, because the presence of his family adds to the quality of American life. We believe the need for that streamlined process is dire.
"I've been trying and trying but the system is broke,” Pacheco said in a CNN report this week. “It didn't allow me to go forward. Other than to do an application (for permanent resident status). And just wait.”
He also said in the same report that he doesn’t blame President Trump. "I don't consider it his policy. I consider it more like the law."
Unfortunately, the end to Pacheco’s story has not been written. His case is still open.
Although he is currently free on bond, Pacheco still does not have legal status. His next step in the immigration process is to exit the country and await word from immigration authorities that he has been greenlighted to re-enter. And he cannot work until he is granted legal status.
Pacheco has applied for a provisional waiver that could minimize the amount of time he needs to spend away from family and friends. However, it’s clear the process is cumbersome and a hardship for family — he is married with three children.
To those who are working to reform immigration policy, we hope it includes a future in which this does not happen to another family.