On Wednesday morning, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency introduced VOICE—or the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office—a special new branch created by the Trump administration to, in the agency’s words, “serve the needs of crime victims and their families who have been impacted by crimes committed by removable criminal aliens.”
The new office stems from a promise made by President Trump during his speech to a joint session of Congress in February, where he vowed to “[provide] a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests” (and conveniently ignored data which suggests that high rates of immigration coincide with reduced crime rates).
At a press conference today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan told reporters, “I’ve been enforcing immigration law for 33 years, today is a good day.”
The office also unveiled a new, toll-free hotline where callers can expect (per the VOICE website):
- Assistance signing up to receive automated custody status information about an alien in custody (DHS-VINE);
- Additional criminal or immigration history may be available about an alien to victims or their families;
- Local contacts to help with unique victims’ requests, and
- Access to skilled social science professionals available to refer victims to appropriate services
Curious, I called the hotline.
I was greeted by a pre-recorded message explaining that the service exists to provide information “for victims and their families who have been impacted by a crime committed by an alien who may be subject to removal.” Callers are then prompted to choose between either an English or Spanish speaking representative.
The message—recorded by a friendly sounding woman with a flat midwestern accent—notes that theirs is not “a hotline to report crime,” and urges those callers to contact local law enforcement or the ICE tip line.
These services, with their emphasis on providing the “criminal and immigration history” of those within its database, are emblematic of the Trump administration’s fear-mongering when it comes to immigrants living in the United States. It essentially creates a new class of people, dividing them into those who simply commit crimes, and those who are foreigners who commit crimes. Similarly, victims of crimes are delineated along the same lines.
“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique —and too often ignored,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a press release announcing the office’s formation. “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.”
The implications of something so clearly set up to turn immigrants into a villainous, separate category of people are sobering.
“The VOICE program won’t do anything to increase public safety,” Black Alliance for Just Immigration Deputy Director Carl Lipscombe, told Fusion. “Rather, like all of this administration’s immigration programs, it will serve as another vehicle for those with nationalist, xenophobic tendencies to criminalize and spread fear amongst immigrant families and communities. Today is not a good day.”
Ominously, the VOICE hotline as it exists currently is just the beginning. As ICE explained on its Twitter account, the agency “intends to expand the services VOICE offers in the future.”
Additional reporting by Jorge Rivas.