He is undocumented and agrees with President Donald Trump on some of his hard-line immigration policies.
“I don’t consider it his policy. I consider it more like the law,” said Juan Carlos Hernandez-Pacheco, of West Frankfort, Illinois.
Hernandez was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month. He spent 20 days in ICE custody and said some of his cellmates, who are also undocumented, see the President favorably.
“Donald Trump was the first to be known for promise and delivery,” Hernandez remembered his cellmates saying. “They wish that the Mexican President and every other president in the world would do the same.”
Hernandez said he agrees with the President’s policies toward border security, terrorism, energy and with his Supreme Curt nominee.
Hernandez is a husband and father of three children, ages 2 to 8, who are US citizens. He said he was at home when an immigration agent was walking outside his fence on February 9. The agent recognized him, he said, from a January 2015 encounter, when ICE went to his home looking for someone who no longer lived there.
“He knew me from a few years ago,” Hernandez said. The agent knew he was undocumented “because I told him a couple years ago.”
Unlike the previous encounter, this time the agent decided to take him into custody. ICE has pointed to his two DUI convictions from nearly 10 years ago as the reason.
Hernandez, who came to the United States from Mexico almost 20 years ago, said he doesn’t feel profiled.
“He was doing his job,” he said.
But he did ask the agent for compassion, noting that his son’s eighth birthday was on Valentine’s Day.
“I said, ‘Please don’t take me in now,’ ” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was detained anyway and it looked like he could be deported. He was released Thursday but deportation is still a possibility.
“On March 1, Hernandez-Pacheco was released from ICE custody after posting bond, which was awarded by a federal immigration judge. His removal proceedings remain pending in immigration court,” ICE said Thursday.
In his adopted hometown of West Frankfort, he’s just known as Carlos, the former manager of a popular Mexican restaurant, the friendly face that greets everyone with a smile and a nice word.
Most of the people he interacted with, he said, didn’t know he was undocumented. It’s not something he advertised. Especially in Franklin County, a deep conservative part of Illinois. More than 70% of votes cast here went to Donald Trump.
But as Hernandez found out, the scores of people he interacted with at the restaurant and at volunteer, business and charity events in town valued him for being a contributing member of the community, regardless of his legal status.
When the town found out he was detained by immigration authorities, many were devastated about what it could mean for his wife, Elizabeth, and their children.
“This is a very emotional deal for us because of our friendship,” said his longtime pal Tim Grigsby.
While Hernandez was still detained, Grigsby launched a local campaign asking the community to write letters of support for his friend to persuade an immigration judge to give clemency to Hernandez.
Hernandez learned about the effort from inside a detention center in Missouri, when he talked to his wife by phone.
“If you knew my friends, that’s something you should expect,” Hernandez said with a smile.
His cellmates got wind of the overwhelming support for Hernandez, and they started rallying around him inside the detention center.
“My cellmates, roommates started saying, ‘Go ahead,’ ” Hernandez said, referring to how the other detainees waved him on to make more phone calls to his friends and supporters.
Awaiting a court date
Hernandez is elated to be back in his beloved small Illinois town. He posted $3,000 bail and is waiting for an immigration court date. His attorney said it could take years, given the backlog in immigration court.
But one more thing is weighing heavy on his shoulders. He can’t work, which is standard for an undocumented immigrant awaiting a court date.
“It is going to be difficult … not be able to work, not be able to provide for the family,” he said, adding that his wife, a US citizen, has a job.
While he cannot keep his job, now that he is out of the shadows, he plans to keep one promise to his oldest son.
“I told him that I was here to stay. I’m going nowhere,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said he has been trying to attain legal status for 10 years and wants to become a US citizen.
“I’ve been trying and trying but the system is broke. It didn’t allow me to go forward. Other than to do an application (for permanent resident status). And just wait,” he said.
CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.