O’Neill Ventures, O'Neill, Neb., was one of several agricultural operations targeted in raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Aug. 8. ( Courtesy News Channel Nebraska )

A 10-acre hydroponic greenhouse complex and a large potato farming operation in O’Neill, Neb., were two of several agricultural businesses targeted in raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

According to an ICE news release, O’Neill Ventures, a greenhouse in north-central Nebraska, and potato operation Elkhorn River Farms, were two sites in a series of warrants served Aug. 8 on 17 individuals connected to an alleged criminal conspiracy to exploit unauthorized laborers for profit; fraud; wire fraud; and money laundering in Nebraska and Minnesota.

Federal officials said the enforcement action is part of a 15-month, ongoing Homeland Security investigation based on evidence that these companies allegedly knowingly hired unauthorized workers, and that many of these workers use fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens.

According to a 2015 report on Grownebraska.com, Elkhorn River Farms produced 4,000 acres of russet potatoes for the fresh retail and foodservice markets in the O’Neill, Atkinson, and Basset areas of Holt and Rock counties in Nebraska.

The Grand Island Independent online reported Aug. 8 that the O’Neill Ventures hydroponic greenhouse complex is capable of producing 250,000 pounds of tomatoes a week. 

Federal immigration enforcement officers surrounded the facility the morning of Aug. 8. Quoting an employee, The Independent reported about 80 employees worked at the plant. 

Only about 20 remained after the raid, the employee told the news outlet.

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said there have been reports of ICE raids on a number of agricultural operations this year.

“It’s concerning, in particular when you are in the part of the year where you are either harvesting your crops or your preparing to harvest your crops and with near-record low unemployment in the U.S.,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer Americans lining up to do seasonal ag jobs.”

The release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said federal authorities also served search warrants for work site hiring violations at agricultural firms in Nebraska and Minnesota, and federal document search warrants at locations throughout Nebraska; in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; Appleton, Minnesota; and Las Vegas. 

ICE officials said that during the execution of search warrants on those firms Aug. 8, 133 unauthorized workers were administratively arrested for immigration violations.

Federal law enforcement officers believe the alleged conspirators, 17 individuals located in multiple states, colluded to create an unauthorized workforce in their businesses, according to the release.

The release said the unauthorized workers were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though this money was never paid to the government, and were coerced to remain quiet about this criminal activity.

Submitted by Palladini on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 08:58

It boils down to, if your in the USA Illegally, then if Ice comes looking, Goodbye!

Submitted by Steve Sprinkel on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 09:19

Continuing to service agricultural labor has been ignored since the Reagan amnesty. That's thirty years. The tradition of Mexican migrant agricultural workers is more than a hundred years old. A significant majority of the workers would prefer to work here temporarily every year and go home during the winter. A lack of courage to get smart policy in place has created an environment of illegal activity and the replacement culture here in the US that is so often used as a political hammer. The entire food service industry from the transplant growers to the line cooks is at risk and farmers are just part of it. Make America Hungry Again. Or just bring it in from elsewhere. Only some of this readership prefers that.

Submitted by don on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 09:25

once ICE hits the meat packing industry the lobbyists will flood republican coffers with cash and these raids will end. There are very few food farms that don't have illegal workers. White people don't pick veggies and fruit they don't period.

Submitted by Ken Roe on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 15:08

Just picked all morning, there are thousands of small farmers forced to compete against these corrupt corporations. There is a legal eat for these companies to bring in workers H-2B. We need to make the I-9 a mandatory check provram, not a voluntary system as it is, thiz just leads to corruption.

In reply to by don (not verified)

Submitted by Dee on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 16:32

But even with an I-9 requirement, they pass counterfeit identification. Not all HR personnel are trained to determine what is fake, in terms of ID. And then there are others who might know the ID is fake but feel they've done their part by simply collecting it. Plus, they need the workers, so they turn the other cheek.
However, I agree with you, and I think mandatory I-9 is a great start!

In reply to by Ken Roe (not verified)

Submitted by Nam Vet on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 19:09

Why haven't the democrats passed immigration that allows hard working seasonal immigrants from Mexico and Central America to come to the United States and work on our farms and ranches? They had plenty of time while clinton and obama were in office.
Immigrant farm workers do not vote, immigrant workers do not join the union and pay dues.
Refugee muslims do!
The clintons have been buddies with don tyson since they lived in arkansas while he was govenor.
How many samalian muslim refugees work at tysons plants all over the United States? A very large percentage of them, all dues paying union members. Remember when the union went on strike at tysons in shelbyville tenn. and got tysons' union workers 5 prayer breaks per day but failed getting Labor Day changed to a ramadan holiday?
When clinton was president he brought in 6,600 bosnian muslim refugees to work in the meat packing plants in iowa.
While obama was president a muslim refugee from the kenya/samalia area was elected the Executive vice president of the afl/cio. His name us tefere gebre, he was elected in 2013.
Take a look at the Farm Bill that obama tried to pass. That farm bill was partially drafted by obamas' chamber of commerce and the afl/cio. In it it states that allk

Submitted by Nam Vet on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 19:23

Obamas' farm bill states that all farm, dairy, and ranch workers be members of the union with benefits and that any farmer that wants to hire any workers has to hire who the union chooses to send them. No right to rehire hard working seasonal immigrants that have been working for them satisfactorily in the past!
Why do you suppose clinton stated she was going to bring in 100,000 syrian muslim refugees alone when president in 2017 and over 110,000 syrian muslim refugees alone in 2018. All future dues paying union members and democratic votes. The hard working immigrants from Mexico had nothing for the democrats and their union buddies!
Thank God President Trump won! If clinton had won our farmers probably would have been forced by the democrats and their union buddies to put stairways in their silos to call their workers to prayer five times per day!