The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently conducted another massive workplace raid in multiple states in which more than 130 undocumented workers were reportedly arrested.
A tomato greenhouse operation, restaurants, a grocery store, a grain company and a cattle company were few of many businesses in small town O'Neill, Nebraska, which were raided by the immigration authorities.
The workers in the town, which is home to about 3,700 people, were greeted early morning by the ICE officers who reportedly put them in buses and transported them to an ICE office building in Grand Island.
The raids rocked the town of O’Neill, where hours after the incursion, schools, church leaders and community organizers opened their doors to comfort the affected immigrant families. They also peacefully protested the agency’s actions by lighting candles outside the ICE facility where the workers were reportedly being held.
“We are a close-knit community — we’re familiar with almost all of the families. I think everybody’s just sickened and hurting for them at this point. The people that have reached out to me have just wanted to help in every way they can,” said Amy Shane, superintendent of O’Neill Public Schools.
Teachers and administrators were in the middle of a meeting when they got panicked phone calls about the immigration authorities raiding their small town. With the lack of anything else to do to diffuse the tension, they decided to open up the only public elementary school, which was closed for summer break, for children whose parents or family members had been arrested.
The teachers ended up comforting children as young as 4-months-old and as old as high school-age. The younger children were aware of the chaotic atmosphere, but obviously didn’t understand the intensity of the situation.
Meanwhile, some of the older kids cried silently after learning their parents were picked up by the ICE.
“Kids are resilient but something about their eyes — they definitely knew, they understood why they were there, they could hear people talking,” said Jill Brodersen, a 47-year-old assistant principal at O’Neill Elementary School, where the kids stayed.
O’Neill was one of the prime targets of authorities for their operation against undocumented immigrants. The focus of this crackdown was, however, different from others as it sought business operators suspected of hiring undocumented immigrants while cheating them out of wages.
However, the children of the arrestees couldn’t possibly be aware of the nature of the charges against their parents. They just knew their fathers or mothers, who left for work in the morning, didn’t come back home.
As hours passed at the school, some of the kids got picked up by their relatives and friends. However, there were three kids, including a 4-month-old and her 7-year-old sister, who had nowhere to go as both their parents had been arrested and they had no family in town.
Brodersen decided to take the kids home for the night so they had a place to stay.
“My heart went out to their mom, not knowing where her kids were. I just hoped she had a sense that they were loved and taken care of,” she said.
Once at her home, Brodersen made sure the kids were clean and fed. Being a grandmother herself, she knew what would keep the kids happy and busy.
But as the night went on, the young girl became curious about her mother’s whereabouts.
“Is mom going to come home? Why isn’t she here yet?” she asked.
The assistant principal didn’t have an answer for the young girl’s question. So, she chose to be truthful with her.
“I don’t know where your mom is right now but we will get the information. People are looking out for you,” she said. “You’re safe here with us and we will take care of you until we hear from your mom — she loves you and misses you and will get here as soon as she can.”
Later at night, Brodersen got a call from the school interpreter who had been in touch with the affected families. The dad of the two kids was fortunately released.
“She had the biggest smile on her face,” said the principal about the little girl’s reaction when she got to know her father was coming to pick them up.
It’s unclear exactly what fate awaits those who were apprehended by the ICE. However, certain reports suggest individuals who were released, were given a date on which they will have to show up at court where their deportation proceedings will reportedly be held.
“You see the heartache it caused and you realize that those seven or eight people needed to possibly be arrested. But there were a lot of innocent families that didn’t need to be mixed up in the fray,” said Brodersen.
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