New York Times: "Office to Aid Crime Victims Is Latest Step in Crackdown on Immigrants"

by Joseph McKeown

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week announced the creation of an office to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, part of an effort by President Trump to aggressively curtail undocumented immigration. The office, called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), is part of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency tasked with deportations, and was created in response to President Trump’s January executive order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which also prioritized the removal of large numbers of the unlawfully present immigrant population and expanded the “expedited removal” process.

“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored,” DHS Secretary John Kelly says in a statement announcing the new office. “They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place.” According to the DHS, the key objectives of the VOICE office are:

  • Use a victim-centered approach to acknowledge and support victims and their families.
  • Promote awareness of available services to crime victims.
  • Build collaborative partnerships with community stakeholders assisting victims.

ICE officials report that the VOICE office, funded with existing resources, would provide a hotline for victims and would be staffed by about twenty-one community relations officers and twenty-seven specialists in victim assistance. The new office is similar to an existing service in many states called VINE, or Victim Information and Notification Everyday, that provides information to crime victims, including of crimes committed by immigrants. Officials say the new VOICE office would be different because it would provide victims with information regarding the alleged criminal’s progress through the immigration system, information that states do not currently have.

Critics of the new VOICE office say it unfairly targets individuals who are less likely to commit crimes than native-born American citizens. Census data analysis from 1980 through 2010 shows that among men aged eighteen to forty-nine, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as native-born Americans. About seven percent of the nation’s population are noncitizens, while about five percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are noncitizens, Justice Department figures show.

Critics say Mr. Trump’s focus on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants—both in the creation of the VOICE office and in publishing weekly lists of crimes by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities—could demonize immigrants and lead to a further increase in hate crimes.

“This just continues the campaign strategy Donald Trump employed to vilify immigrants and identify them with a small number of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants,” Brent A. Wilkes, chief executive of League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization, tells the New York Times. Wilkes says that the creation of such an office supposedly helping victims of crimes leaves out one group of victims: undocumented immigrants themselves. Immigrants are often specifically targeted for crimes and scams, a fact that US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) specifically acknowledges with warnings. Undocumented immigrants, in particular, who are the victims of crimes, also face additional fear from reporting such crimes. They often choose not to file police reports or testify for fear of deportation, especially now after a wave of arrests by ICE at courthouses. ICE officials deny that the new VOICE office ignores undocumented immigrants affected by crime, and says they would not ask those seeking assistance about their immigration status. They did not say whether it is realistic that undocumented immigrants would feel comfortable calling and providing personal details to an agency that handles deportations of undocumented immigrants.

As a form of protest against the new VOICE office, the new hotline is experiencing prank calls. Many people are calling to report a different kind of “alien.” Alexander McCoy, a member of the activist group Common Defense, says he came up with the idea to troll VOICE with reports of UFO and alien sightings when he noticed #AlienDay was trending on Twitter and thought it might "be a catchy way to fight back against the Trump administration's use of bigoted language and racist stereotypes of criminality." He tells BuzzFeed News: "I think it's powerful to see the response there's been. I think there are a lot of people who have been searching for something they can do to speak out, and I'm glad that so many people are showing solidarity with the immigrant community.” Not amused, a representative for ICE tells BuzzFeed News: "There are certainly more constructive ways to make one’s opinions heard than to prevent legitimate victims of crime from receiving the information and resources they seek because the lines are tied up by hoax callers.”