WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is spotlighting violence committed by immigrants, announcing the creation of a national office that can assist American victims of such crimes. He said during his address to a joint session of Congress that the Homeland Security Department’s Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement office will provide a voice for people ignored by the media and “silenced by special interests.”
Critics of the president’s approach to immigration say the proposal is misguided, in part because studies show immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born U.S. citizens.
A look at the proposal and what it aims to do:
WHAT IS THE VICTIMS OF IMMIGRATION CRIME ENGAGEMENT OFFICE?
Trump’s plan is to create VOICE as an office to ensure that victims of immigrant crime are kept abreast of developments in their cases and the deportation proceedings of suspects. It’s a role similar to that of victim advocates who work in local and state courts.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly detailed the office’s planned work in a memo last month that explained how his agency would carry out Trump’s immigration enforcement policies.
Kelly said in the memo that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was previously blocked from keeping victims informed about their ongoing cases because it extended privacy protections to immigrants, a policy that left “victims feeling marginalized and without a voice.”
Kelly also wants ICE to redirect any of the money that had been used for outreach to immigrants to be used instead for outreach and advocacy for legal residents and U.S. citizens.
A NEW APPROACH
The new office continues a dramatic overhaul of immigration policies.
Under President Barack Obama, ICE protected information about immigration cases from public inspection, including from victims. It also created a public advocate position in 2012 in the midst of an overhaul of policies about which immigrants in the country illegally should be targeted for deportation.
ICE said at the time that its public advocate would be the person at the agency who helped immigrants facing deportation and also answered complaints or offered explanations about how the agency was conducting its work.
Launched and then closed by the Obama administration, the office was bashed by critics of Obama’s immigration enforcement policies who said it was misguided to use government money to advocate for immigrants in the country illegally.
Trump’s VOICE would play a much different role and hews to some of his campaign vows.
“This office has to do with keeping the promises and maintaining the pressure on the issue on criminal aliens and putting a human face to it,” said Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute.
IMMIGRANTS AND CRIME
Multiple studies have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born U.S. citizens. A 2014 study published in the journal Justice Quarterly concluded that immigrants “exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.”
Trump listed some high-profile examples in his Tuesday night speech to Congress, pointing to guests in the crowd, including a man whose son was shot by a gang member in Los Angeles and the wives of police officers who were killed on duty.
Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, a liberal-leaning organization that advocates for immigrants, said, “Trump continues to tag immigrants as criminals, a charge as false as it is cruel.”
The new office fits into his hard-line stance on immigration that includes a proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and new guidance that Homeland Security would subject any immigrants in the country illegally to deportation if they are charged or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it is rearranging existing personnel to support the new office and is “currently drafting outreach materials for victims and families impacted by immigration crime.”