Immigration Law

An ICE Raid in a Small Nebraska Town 'Has Got Us Split Right Down the Middle'

Hamed Aleaziz, BuzzFeed News, Oct. 23, 2018 - "The ICE operation on Aug. 8 resulted in the arrests of 118 suspected undocumented workers — mostly in Nebraska — at multiple worksites, including a hydroponic tomato greenhouse, a pork producing plant, a potato factory, and a cattle company. Some laborers were placed in ICE detention, while many were released and told to go to immigration court for their deportation proceedings.

It was one of the largest worksite raids in years and part of a major push by the Trump administration to increase enforcement efforts at workplaces across the country.

... And in the weeks since, the raid has reverberated throughout the once thriving immigrant population in O’Neill, a town of just over 3,600 people, so isolated that it’s the largest town in a 60-mile radius. Fear has gripped the community of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans. Many now rarely leave their homes, worried that ICE may be around the corner or that long-time residents will call the authorities on them.

... The raid also shook long-time residents of O’Neill, a deeply religious, conservative town that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump, exposing fault lines that divided friends who rarely, if ever, spoke about immigration. While a spirited group of teachers and advocates rallied in support of the workers arrested in the raid, others were less sympathetic. Many of these arguments took place on Facebook, others happened in public.

The immigration status of workers, their effect on the economy, and their place in the community were always assumed but never spoken about. The raid changed that.

“We’re a divisive community right now. The immigration system has got us split right down the middle,” said Pastor Brian Loy, 56, who runs the First United Methodist Church in town and helps run a food bank for the affected families every week.

Loy has lost friends over his support of the laborers, has been “shunned” downtown, and has had congregants confront him, he said. Most people, he believes, are ignorant of the immigration system, like he was, assuming that undocumented workers had unlimited access to government welfare. “I didn’t understand that until I got in the middle of this.”

The food bank he helped set up for those affected by the raid gets its donations mostly from outside cities, not O’Neill. As the weeks went by, more laborers came out of hiding to visit the pantry — Loy doesn’t know how they ate before then. Some waited outside the church for hours before Loy and his crew begin serving lunch and handing out supplies — so they started providing breakfast.

The crisis gave his church a sense of purpose, a mission to help those in need.

While residents never expected such a raid, the town was in fact on the front lines of a major shift in immigration policy under the Trump administration, which has emphasized investigations and operations at worksites that employ undocumented workers."