O’Neill coalition works to deal with impact of immigration raids
O’NEILL — Many of those arrested Wednesday during immigration raids in North Central Nebraska felt as though they weren’t treated like human beings during the process.
That was part of the message shared Friday afternoon at a press conference that focused on the immigration enforcement action taken in O’Neill. Organized by the O’Neill Cares Coalition, the press conference took place in the St. Mary’s High School commons area and was broadcast on Facebook by the Holt Country Independent.
One of the individuals who spoke at the press conference was identified by only her first name — Carmen — and her comments in Spanish were translated for others in attendance.
Carmen said it is hard to come to the U.S. without legal documentation or the certainty of a job, but she and her co-workers did so willingly as a way to try to improve the lives of their children. Carmen ended up working in Atkinson, washing out the trailers of semi-trailer trucks.
She described her arrest Wednesday as “abusive.” She said “big agents” threw her to the ground and laughed at her. She also wasn’t allowed to change out of her work uniform that was wet and felt “totally humiliated.”
Then she and some co-workers had to endure the heat in a crowded bus without air-conditioning that transported those detained to Grand Island. Once there, they were placed in a detention center.
Bryan Corkle, a spokesman for O’Neill Cares, said the coalition does not condone criminal behavior but wants to assist hard-working people.
Beyond the human displacement that has occurred, the raids will have a severe impact that will change O’Neill forever, Corkle said. That’s why the coalition is accepting donations of items like paper, food and hygiene products from around the state, along with messages of support.
While some of those who have been detained have since returned to their families, others have remained in custody. Their children remain without parents, he said.
Corkle said he did not know how many families had been reunited. Many of those who have returned to North Central Nebraska have been given a court date and released on their own recognizance.
Corkle said the coalition would have another press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 28, which will include sharing of information and a roundtable discussion on how to possibly improve the current immigration system in the United States.
Pastor Tomas Garcia of Iglesia Evangelica Bethania church in O’Neill, said he has witnessed firsthand the impact of the events on some children.
“We are very grateful to the support you are showing to our Hispanic brothers and sisters impacted by the raids,” he said through a translator. “We’re very happy to see that you all are supporting them, knowing there are many others in the community and elsewhere who don’t want to see them in the community.”
Garcia said the immigrants are here to work hard for the community and their employers. They want to come here to work legally, but most cannot do so because of how difficult the process is for immigration, Garcia said.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity this country gives us,” Garcia said. “We value those opportunities where you can make something of yourself by honest work. When things like this happen, we don’t know what to do.”
Most of the immigrants want to stay in the United States because they want better opportunities for their children, but they don’t know if they will be able to do so, he said.
If many of them go back to their own countries, many will be returning to violence, Garcia said.
“All we can do now is pray and touch the minds and hearts of people so they can stay and be contributing members of this society and have their children have it better,” he said.