The writers, both of Omaha, are members of the Nebraska Legislature. Vargas represents District 7, and Hunt represents District 8.
We join our fellow Nebraskans who are heartbroken watching the repeated horrors of a broken and inhumane immigration policy driving mass detention and family separation across the nation. Migrants arriving at our border are fleeing violence, fearing for their safety and hoping for a better future in pursuit of the American Dream. Many people are asking what we can do in the heartland to make a positive difference. We write in this urgent moment to help answer these questions with concrete action ideas and policy solutions.
First, we need to increase awareness of how the war on immigrants is playing out in Nebraska communities. In the past two years there was a massive ICE raid in O’Neill and smaller-scale raids in Lincoln and Omaha. Scribner voters passed a discriminatory anti-immigrant local ordinance restricting housing and employment, similar to a divisive ordinance adopted in Fremont years earlier. Our attorney general has joined efforts in the federal courts to end DACA, and our governor has said he would support sending more Nebraska National Guard troops to our southern border at the request of President Donald Trump.
In late 2018, the Dakota County sheriff entered a federal 287(g) agreement which deputizes local officers as ICE agents. This costly agreement was entered into — and renewed just this week — without public notice or any input from the community. With children dying in ICE custody and families being separated every day without accountability, the time for Nebraskans to contact local officials and speak out against this practice is now.
Second, we write to help identify ways individuals can make a difference in Nebraska. Local organizations like the ACLU of Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, Heartland Workers Center and Immigrant Legal Center need our support now. We ask Nebraskans to contact their elected officials and urge them to join faith leaders, business leaders, civil rights groups and agricultural interests to stop misguided attacks on our immigrant neighbors and start working together to craft a path forward with sensible reforms. We also ask them to contact the Dakota County sheriff in opposition to the costly 287(g) agreement which deputizes local law enforcement as ICE agents.
Finally, we ask our colleagues in the Legislature to focus on state-level solutions. Legislative Bill 369 was introduced by Vargas, co-sponsored by Hunt and Sen. Matt Williams, was advanced from committee with bipartisan support, and will be up for debate next year. This bill would increase transparency and require hearings before counties enter 287(g) agreements that increase racial profiling, burden local property-taxpayers, and hinder shared public safety goals.
Over the interim we are researching many other solutions like Illinois’ recently adopted Keep Families Together Act, which places limitations on 287(g) agreements, preventing local law enforcement from being deputized as ICE agents. To protect the constitutional rights of our newest neighbors in Nebraska, we will need active support and engagement.
There are bright spots of political consensus around immigration reform in Nebraska that we can build on. Nebraska faith communities are opening their doors and their hearts, the Lincoln and Omaha Chambers of Commerce are advocating for thoughtful reform and most local law enforcement agencies are focusing on ways to strengthen community relations and advance public safety without becoming entangled in complex immigration enforcement matters.
Policies that support immigrants represent our nation at its best — a beacon of hope and opportunity, extending dignity and promoting prosperity for all who want to call the U.S. home. The U.S. and Nebraska will never be leaders in economic and intellectual innovation without immigrants. Nebraska has a long and diverse immigration history, and this recent dark chapter provides us with an opportunity to come together unlike ever before and work toward sensible and humane solutions that are good for our families, our economy, our state and our future.