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Editorial: VOICE program exaggerates immigrant crimes to spread fear

Editorial: VOICE program exaggerates immigrant crimes to spread fear

Illustration: Gustavo Reyes

From the very moment he announced his candidacy, the president has demonized immigrants—particularly those from Latin America and the Middle East.

Any hope that candidate Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was a campaign strategy was dashed when in his second week of office he issued an executive order temporarily banning all refugees and immigrants from seven majority Islamic countries.

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Part of a wave of orders the president signed in late January, the “Muslim ban” (which has since been blocked by the courts) got most of the press, but another order was perhaps even more revealing of the new administration’s war on immigrants.

In this order, the president called for the creation of the new program under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called Victims of Immigrants Crime Engagement (VOICE). Supposedly it would assist the families of those affected by crimes committed by “immigrants” (the qualifiers “undocumented,” “unauthorized” and “illegal” were noticeably absent from the order).

VOICE’s real purpose though is just to release a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants (again there is no distinction between documented and undocumented).

On March 20, the Department of Homeland Security released the first such list of ICE “detainers” that were “declined,” meaning incidents where the local law enforcement refused to cooperate with ICE agents.

Much like the president himself, the report fails to deliver on really its most basic promise.

The document—which is broken into four sections that compile declined ICE detainers from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3— is vague, misleading, hastily slapped together and embarrassingly incomplete.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the 206 detainers listed are for immigrants from Latin America (There were five detainers for immigrants from Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Jamaica, and Tonga).

Included on the list are the immigrant’s alleged criminal activity, location, country of origin and dates their detainers were issued and declined. Also included are jurisdictions that have “enacted policies which limit cooperation with ICE” (the oldest dating back to 1997), but the report inexplicably fails to mention any jurisdiction in California.

The fine print above the detainers reads “that an alien may have been subject to detainers in multiple jurisdictions during the time period reported,” acknowledging that one person could have been counted multiple times.

But the real outrage is how this document attempts to skew the data via the way in which it presents immigrants’ crimes, or “notable criminal activity.” Only 90 (44 percent) of the detainers were actually convicted of the crime listed; the rest were merely charged with crimes. This sort of sleight-of-hand is a hallmark of the administration’s legal strategy against immigrants. And the way that the report combines immigrants charged with crimes and those actually convicted violates a cornerstone of our judicial system: the presumption of innocence.

These weekly reports are really not about justice, they’re about stoking the fear of immigrants by leading the general public to believe that immigrants commit crimes at a much greater rate. In reality, multiple studies have demonstrated that immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than natural born citizens.

VOICE is ultimately about intimidating immigrants. The administration knows damn well that it could not possibly deport even close to all of 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States but, if it can make the climate hostile enough, perhaps they may leave on their own.

It is critical to resist this sort of intimidation. The majority of Americans support a path to citizenship, and it’s coming eventually whether the Trump administration accepts it or not.

Story by: Staff