Area women organize protest in wake of ICE raids
More than 70 people assembled at a busy Norfolk intersection late Thursday afternoon to protest immigration raids earlier this week in O’Neill.
The brainchild of three Northeast Nebraska women, the peaceful — and mostly silent — protest took place for several hours at the intersection of Norfolk Avenue and 13th Street.
In Nebraska and elsewhere, an operation by Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials snared 133 workers suspected of being in the country illegally, as well as 17 people connected to an alleged conspiracy to exploit illegal labor for profit, fraud and money laundering.
In Holt County, dozens of workers from a local tomato greenhouse complex, a potato processing facility and a cattle feedlot were detained. A protest at the Holt County courthouse in O’Neill drew 75 to 100 people Wednesday afternoon.
A co-organizer of the Norfolk protest, Alee Mullings of Albion, had taken to social media Thursday morning to spread word of the event. However, she later removed the posts because some comments had turned ugly, targeting her and her family.
“But amongst all the hate, the love and support shined brighter in our communities, which made me very happy and gave me hope,” Mullings said.
Thursday’s protest was scheduled to begin at about 4 p.m., and by 4:30, Mullings said she was pleased with the turnout — about 50 people at that point.
She had assumed only she and the two other women who helped to plan the protests — Jasmine Chavez and Sebastiana Vargas, both of Norfolk — would be the only ones participating. So to end up with about 70 people was more than they could have hoped for, Mullings said.
Mullings said she, Chavez and Vargas had discussed how much it hurt them to hear about the raids in O’Neill.
“We are protesting for the children who are being separated from their parents, for the hard-working individuals who are doing the jobs that no one else is doing, the people who were being taken advantage of — which was stated in news articles — and then now they have been ripped from their children and their families,” Mullings said.
Vargas said she grew up in Ewing and knew a lot of the people who were taken into custody Wednesday by ICE representatives in O’Neill.
Vargas said she hoped the Norfolk protest would catch the eye of President Donald Trump.
“I know our president is very social media active, and I hope that by doing this, it gets back to him. I know we’re not a lot of people (at the protest), but we’re trying. This is all we can do,” Vargas said.
Several media representatives were on scene to document Thursday’s event, and motorists passing through the intersection responded to the protesters — some honking and shouting encouragement, a few yelling out slurs and hateful statements.
Before the protest, Capt. Don Miller with the Norfolk Police Division came to where people were assembling and spoke with Mullings and others for a few minutes.
Mullings said Miller told her that “he was all for us protesting, as long as it was peaceful and we stayed out of the street.”
He also told Mullings to call him if there were any problems.
“He was very, very nice,” she said.
She and her fellow co-organizers said it is important for the public to look at what is at stake when community members are forcibly removed from their jobs and families.
“We need to understand the conflict of law versus ethics and morality. And we all need to examine what it means to be human,” Mullings said.