Twice a day, a white school bus lumbers through this town carrying about 25 workers to and from a massive, glass greenhouse where they pick tomatoes. The temporary workers arrived a year ago, shortly after federal immigration officials raided the greenhouse and other local businesses in O’Neill. About 130 workers were detained in the raid, along with a local man accused of arranging jobs for them and pocketing part of their paychecks.
The imported workers live in an old motel purchased by the greenhouse company after the raid to house the employees, who rotate in and out of this north-central Nebraska farm town, largely unseen by the rest of the community.
A year after the raid, the white bus is one of the few visible signs of change in O’Neill, which struggles with a shortage of labor as well as lingering questions about national immigration policies.
While opinion is still split here and across the state on whether the raid was necessary, there are still some lingering questions about what the raid really accomplished. Yes, many said, the ringleader and some others who were exploiting immigrants have been rightfully convicted. But many wonder about the others, who were contributing to the town and are now gone.