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Immigration 101: What is VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement)?

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On April 26, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of VOICE, short for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, an office that would take calls from people who have suffered crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

In its first few days of existence, VOICE was flooded with calls not about immigrants, but about space aliens – the result of a few tweets from a former US Marine who said he had served alongside immigrants in uniform and opposed the idea of Trump attacking the immigrant community.

When Fusion contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that operates VOICE, ICE was shown to have no chill, calling the prank a “cheap publicity stunt” that was “beyond the pale of legitimate public discourse”, “objectively despicable”, and “shameful”.

Jokes aside, VOICE is problematic for a lot of reasons, including:

  1. It appears to be an attack on immigrants waged, at least partially, because Donald Trump needed some more “wins” for his first 100 days in office.
  2. Multiple reports have found that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.
  3. It is obviously ridiculous to scapegoat an entire community of people over what some among their number have done.
  4. The demonization of immigrants hearkens back to the attacks on Jews, Japanese-Americans, and others, by governments throughout history who first painted them as an “other” before committing even more heinous acts against them.
  5. VOICE may actually block victims from exercising their rights.

Below are some op-eds explaining why VOICE is unhelpful and un-American:

Investigative journalist Susan Posel, as well as Democracy Now, pointed out that VOICE is doing something very similar to what Hitler did in the 1940s:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CBS “This Morning” that Trump’s VOICE program is “ridiculous” because “the The overwhelming majority of immigrants are law abiding, they want to be part of the American dream, and most Americans agree with that.”

Schumer went on to say: “So to put an office like this out there shows how anti-immigrant this president is.”

But the concept behind VOICE has a deeper past, going all the way back to Nazi Germany. Richard Weikart, professor and author of the book “ Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress ”, published a copy of a Nazi periodical entitled “The Criminal Jew” which features photos of Jews along with captions explaining the crimes they had committed.

According to Weikart: “In 1943, a Nazi directive to the German press declared, ‘Jews are criminal by disposition. The Jews are not a nation like other nations but bearers of hereditary criminality’.”

Caludia Koonz, historian at Duke University, pointed out that in Nazi, Germany, the newspaper Der Sturmer would routinely publish readers’ claims of Jewish crimes in a section called “Letter Box”. Hitler used the press to highlight the need for his Ministry of Justice to prosecute every criminal indictment against the Jews and was proud to publicize it.

USA Today agreed with the idea that in America, individuals deserve to be judged on their own merits:

There are good reasons this country doesn’t create separate programs for victims of crimes by Jews or Catholics or African Americans or Asians or juveniles or short people. Categorizing criminals in this way is not going to provide any special comfort to victims. And, by underscoring and over-publicizing the acts of some members, such efforts are the first step toward assigning guilt to a group.

This runs contrary to the core American value that people deserve to be judged as individuals, based on their own behavior. To do otherwise is the very definition of prejudice. It’s why Trump’s call for the VOICE office was greeted with hisses from Democrats during his address to Congress.

The National Center for Victims of Crime argued that demonizing immigrants actually stands in the way of efforts to support crime victims:

We support all victims of crime and their right to be heard and to pursue justice. While it is encouraging that the current administration is discussing victims’ rights, the creation of a Victims of Immigration Crime Enforcement office (VOICE) is a poor use of scarce resources for crime victims and may actually block victims from exercising their rights.

Instead of creating the kind of bureaucracy the President has vowed to eliminate, fully funding existing offices within the Department of Justice including the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office on Violence Against Women, both with proven records of helping all victims, is a much better use of federal dollars.

If a principal charge of VOICE is to deport criminals, officials should understand that deportation proceedings will interfere with victims’ interests to hold their offenders accountable by way of trial, punishment, and the payment of restitution. There needs to be a clearer understanding of how to better serve victims when the offenders stand a chance for deportation.

Brian Stone, a US Navy veteran and LGBT advocate, called VOICE “racist government propaganda”:

While details are still scarce, it does not appear that the program will be limited simply to undocumented immigrants, but will also include crimes committed by legitimate VISA holders, Green Card holders and possibly even permanent residents who are not naturalized citizens.

Let’s call this what it is: VOICE is racist government propaganda. It also is an idea right out of the playbook of Trump’s top political adviser, Steve Bannon, whose website, Breitbart, infamously had a section called Black Crime…

It’s also important to understand that VOICE is an incremental step – just like how the botched Muslim Ban served as only the first unconstitutional salvo against Muslim communities in America. VOICE is a platform to justify further oppression down the line…

Make no mistake, VOICE is only the latest attack against immigrant communities. More than ever, we need to stop letting Trump drive the conversation and instead keep him on the defensive about his racism, his bigotry and his total lack of respect for American Presidential norms and traditions.

An op-ed at the Post and Courier emphasized that VOICE is just an excuse to attack those who are different:

Who is an immigrant?

The answer to that question is, of course, very simple in theory. But it’s pretty difficult — indeed, nearly impossible — to reliably recognize an immigrant on the street. What does an immigrant look like? Sound like? Act like?

And if it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between a citizen and an immigrant simply by looking at a person, then it’s completely impossible to tell the difference between a legal and an illegal immigrant without looking at his or her passport.….

With no realistic way for people on the street to tell the difference between immigrants and citizens, much less legal and illegal immigrants, keeping a running list of crimes committed by deportable aliens runs the very real risk of stoking fear of anyone who simply looks “different.”

That fear and animosity would be far more dangerous than the actual threat posed by most immigrants, including those living here illegally.

The LA Times wondered if VOICE would publicize crimes based solely on reports from those who have called in, or if it would verify them – and what kind of big government would be needed to accomplish this:

[VOICE] isn’t data collection, that’s propaganda, and a shameless effort to stoke fear and suspicion of our immigrant neighbors and co-workers.

Study after study has found that immigrants, with or without legal status, commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. But Trump and his handlers have drawn an alternative conclusion, and now they want to shamelessly gin up the evidence. A silver lining: They’re likely to fail. Immigration status isn’t usually gathered at the time of arrest, and researchers say they already have an inordinate amount of trouble getting even basic arrest data in real time. If the administration somehow surmounted the technical challenges, it then would have to grapple with questions of principle. Would it post information based on an arrest, which is merely an accusation, or wait for a conviction? How big a bureaucracy would these small-government politicians create to achieve this?

Instead, we get a federal data-collection program that not only is empirically suspect, but designed to scapegoat the vulnerable by throwing the weight of the government behind an untruth. That is a crime worth railing against.

Another piece at the LA Times quoted advocated who said that Trump unfairly trying to conflate immigrants with criminals:

“The overall messaging of this administration is to paint all immigrants as criminals, so immigrants and criminals are mixed into the same mold. It’s despicable,” said David Leopold, an immigration attorney in Cleveland.

Some Democratic lawmakers also denounced the new operation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Homeland Security agency responsible for identifying, tracking and deporting those in the country illegally.

“While the president is desperate for something to show for his first 100 days, inserting this propaganda and prejudice into our nation’s Homeland Security policy is a move that history will not look kindly on,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

To combat VOICE, Rep. Jared Polis proposed the creation of the Saved by American Immigrants National Taskforce, or SAINT, which would document heroic acts from undocumented immigrants. Other advocates have announced Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) which would lift up the civil rights abuses perpetrated by ICE upon the immigrant community.