Inside Report: Readers link pardon bid to debate over immigration

A news story about Roberto Hernandez’s quest for a pardon from Gov. Bobby Jindal drew strong reactions from readers.

Hernandez accepted $5,000 to transport illegal Valium between Texas and Indiana 15 years ago. Law enforcement pulled him over in Louisiana, found the drugs and arrested him. Hernandez, a first-time offender, spent 45 days in jail.

After serving his time, Hernandez returned to Texas and married. His wife, Claudia, was nearly nine months pregnant when he crossed the border into his native Mexico two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. U.S. officials discovered that Hernandez — a legal alien — slipped through the cracks of the system and didn’t receive a summons for immigration court after his conviction. Hernandez agreed to voluntarily deport himself. He’s been allowed back in the U.S. only once and missed the births of four of his children.

Hernandez lives in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where he owns a successful restaurant and carefully avoids the violence in a city disrupted by a drug cartel turf war. His wife and five young children — who were all born in the U.S. — live minutes away in Laredo, Texas. The family tries to get together once a month.

The Hernandezes believe Jindal could reunite them by granting a pardon. So far, Jindal has ignored their request.

A story about the family’s plight stirred up readers, who fired off public comments touching on the national immigration crisis, the drug war and sexual slavery. A sample of their thoughts:

  • “Will this be a precedent setter? The minute that it hits the paper & news that a Republican Governor pardoned a deported man, (President Barack) Obama can say, ‘If a Republican Governor can do it so can I & import a million more.’ Democrats love to take a Republican idea, exacerbate it & then blame Republicans, when it fails.”
  • “What the media fails to mention is that this turf war is caused by the legalization of (marijuana) in the U.S. Half of their profits came from (marijuana) and they are fighting over a smaller pie. They will also bring worse drugs into the U.S. to make up for losses. They are also enslaving women in Mexico and bringing them here for sex slaves.”
  • “If he wants his family to be together, he should bring them to Mexico and relocate if necessary to get away from crime.”
  • “There is a limit to the number of people that the United States can absorb from those places and still retain its current character. … There are isolated instances where extraordinary efforts are justified to unite people separated by borders and maybe this is one of them. Without a strong national identity and individual initiative to maintain it, we are just like any town in Mexico.”

Other readers wanted to know how much in U.S. government benefits the Hernandezes receive.

Claudia Hernandez said she is bewildered by the reaction to her family’s saga. She said their story is not a political one. Roberto Hernandez was in the U.S. legally. He voluntarily deported himself. The Hernandezes’ 12-year-old disabled daughter, Yanelle, is on Medicaid. The family does not receive food stamps or welfare benefits.

After the article ran, Claudia Hernandez sat down and composed a letter to Jindal.

“Since The Advocate ran our story, it seems this has turned into a ‘political forum’ regarding illegal immigration, but in reality it is not. My husband was a ‘legal resident’ in this country for over 25 years and has never been ‘an illegal resident’ in the United States. But this case is irrelevant to that fact, or to the fact that my husband is in Mexico. The case, as it sits on your desk, is a simple ‘pardon case,’ which merits your signature based on what it is,” she wrote the governor.

For the most part, the Hernandezes have received silence from the Governor’s Office. Claudia Hernandez plans to picket outside the Governor’s Mansion within the next few weeks and apply for an expungement under a new state law. She doubts the expungement will convince immigration officials to allow her husband back into the U.S.

“It doesn’t help. I know it can’t hurt. Maybe it will make it easier for the governor to sign,” she said.

Michelle Millhollon covers the Governor’s Office for The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mmillhollon@theadvocate.com.