ICE raid felt in Grand Island, as buses of detainees arrive in community
The federal government cracked down on what they call a criminal conspiracy to take advantage of undocumented immigrants on Wednesday.
133 people were arrested, many from Nebraska, and placed on buses.
Two of those buses arrived in Grand Island around 1:20 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
Behind shaded windows in a bus bearing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement emblem, a woman slung her sweater over her shoulder, and men in work boots stepped off the bus and behind a fence, into a large white tent.
They started their day two hours away, in the north central Nebraska community of O’Neill.
“ICE is in the community, we were told they have surrounded the tomato plant,” said Yolanda Chavez-Nuncio of the Grand Island Latino network, as the situation unfolded.
ICE said more than a dozen locations in three states were targeted, most in north central Nebraska.
ICE raided farms and ranches, a grain company, as well as Mexican restaurants and grocery stores.
Those in Nebraska's Latino community have been on edge.
Chavez-Nuncio said, “We've seen a lot of activity in the community the last few weeks, without any confirmation there wasn't an impending raid.”
With Nebraska's agricultural production and use of immigrant and migrant labor, this is what Latino leaders have feared.
Chavez-Nuncio said, “The last few years we've been told ICE is only going after criminals and felons but now we're detaining and deporting people that are just people, that are not criminals, that have not broken the law, that are good, honest, hard working.”
ICE officials say those hiring these workers were not honest.
Federal authorities allege a network was conspiring to undercut the competition, by taking money out of employee paychecks, and threatening to deport workers.
“These targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors,” said Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier, HSI St. Paul, which oversees Nebraska and Minnesota.
And while the allegations sink in, activists say there's more at stake.
“We know that ICE will be doing they're job and having to do what they have to do, but it's the humane side that's not good,” Chavez-Nuncio said.
Christina Alvarez says the national debate about immigration has become personal. She protested during the 2006 ICE raid at JBS Swift in Grand Island, and was back on this day.
“We get stopped by a police officer, have to show we're legal here,” she said of the feeling these days.
These folks wonder how many workers unloaded at this ICE office in Grand Island are parents.
Alvarez said, “It is very angry, because of the kids. I'm not saying about the families, the kids. I'd hate for my child to come home not have mommy and daddy, not know what to do. If they have no family, what are they supposed to do.”
For the Latino community, even those who are residents or citizens are wary.
“They're living in fear and they're being terrorized because they don't know what's happening,” Chavez-Nuncio said.
ICE said some of the 133 who were detained have been released on humanitarian grounds, for medical or family reasons.