by Margaret Marsh
HASTINGS, NE – Located 60 miles north of the geographical center of the United States, there is little to distinguish Hastings, Nebraska from any other small midwestern town. Our biggest claim to fame is that we’re the birthplace of Kool-Aid. We host one of the state’s largest tourist events each August in celebration of the soft drink. Our 25,000 residents live in the midst of cornfields and plains that leave the horizon wide open and unobstructed.
Here, it’s easy to feel far removed from the wall that runs along our southern border and the contentious debate that surrounds it. Seventy percent of Adams County voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I’m sure an equal number would voice support for recent efforts to expand the existing southern barrier.
Our local economy is entirely dependent on farming, and as a result we have seen an increase in the number of Latino families who have located here. Although past census figures list the Latino population at around 12 percent, I would suggest that the number is much higher, with many families uncounted in past census efforts. Fifteen percent, I think, is a conservative estimate.
I am a member of Good Neighbors of Hastings, a local group working to improve relations between marginalized groups and Hastings’ majority white population. Those I’ve met through this group are the inspiration for this article. They are mostly women – wives, mothers and grandmothers. Many of them work in addition to caring for their families. Good Neighbors of Hastings helped create Raices de Mi Pueblo, a Mexican folk dance group. This weekly class provides an opportunity for women to visit while the children dance.
We talk about the things that concern most Nebraskans: the harsh winter, health issues, and struggles with job loss. One thing we do not talk about in this setting, is immigration. These conversations are held in private, sitting around a kitchen table. The stories they share are painful, of a father detained and in jail just days after the birth of his premature baby, of a woman left dependent on only a part time job to provide for three children when her husband was suddenly deported.
Although we have not suffered any of the large mass arrests by ICE that have occurred in Grand Island or O’Neill, we have had 30 people discreetly arrested, detained and deported under this administration. Most of these arrests occurred after encounters with law enforcement related to misdemeanor driving offenses. In some cases, the families of the deported have chosen to leave the country rather than live separated from their loved ones.
Meanwhile, life continues on as usual among Hastings’ broader community. The vast majority of our residents remain unaware that we are quietly having our people disappeared. The families we have lost to deportation were hardworking, with young children. They brought vitality and energy to our community. We are diminished with each deportation.
In 2020, our country will, for the 23rd time, embark on an effort to record the details of every person residing in the United States. This is not just a mathematics exercise. The census is used for many things. Perhaps most importantly, it apportions the number of representatives each state receives in the House of Representatives. It is also the basis for formulas used to allocate billions of aid in federal dollars among the states.
The deportations we have suffered in Hastings have further traumatized a population, one that is already wary of government. This fear will undermine census collection efforts in our community. If we do nothing to protect our people, an already dwindling town will lose big.