The Department of Homeland Security has announced the official opening of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office, which will provide support, resources, and services exclusively to victims of crimes allegedly committed by immigrants. The Trump administration stated that this office will offer a "voice" to victims of immigrant-related violence. But critics argue that the establishment of the VOICE Office perpetuates stereotypes about immigrants, and could negatively contribute to the recent spike in hate crimes that have been reported against minorities and immigrants since Trump's election in November.
While the VOICE Office was initially outlined in an executive order Trump signed in January, the exact plan for the office was officially unveiled by the Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly on Wednesday.
"All crime is terrible, but these crimes are unique — and too often ignored," Kelly said. "They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place — because the people who victimized them often times should never have been in the country."
The office will be included within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency tasked with enforcing deportations. A hotline will be created for victims of immigrant-connected crimes that will provide information about the alleged assailant's progress through the immigration system. Furthermore, the office will issue quarterly reports that examine "the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States."
Trump admin rolls out VOICE, basically the Dept of Homeland Security's new bureau of anti-immigration propaganda https://t.co/oRJEXhKSWa— David Leopold (@DavidLeopold) April 26, 2017
This plan is consistent with rhetoric that Trump has used in the past that criminalizes immigrants, including his infamous comment that some Mexicans who come into the United States are "rapists." While there certainly are a number of immigrants who have committed crimes within U.S. borders, research actually shows far lower levels of crime among immigrants than among U.S. citizens. In fact, according to census data provided by the American Immigration Council, among men aged 18-49, immigrants are only one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.
Creating an office that is specifically designed to address immigrant-related crimes when the actual statistics don't point to any significant issue creates the illusion that the problem is worse than it really is. It contributes to an inaccurate perception that immigrants are far more likely to commit crimes and should be viewed with skepticism and fear, and this mindset could have dangerous effects. For example, individuals may be more likely to commit hate crimes against immigrants and feel justified because of the threat that the immigrant supposedly poses.
The "us vs. them" attitude that underlies the creation of the VOICE Office has been prevalent throughout Trump's presidency, most noticeably in his administration's attempt to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that more than 1,000 hate crimes were reported in the month after Trump took office. Given the VOICE Office's implicit suggestion that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than American-born citizens, I can only hope that this trend doesn't continue.