During his first week in office, Donald Trump stamped his repeated efforts to frame immigrants as criminals by creating an office to support so-called “angel families,” families whose loved ones were victims of crimes allegedly committed by immigrants. On Friday, Joe Biden’s administration shuttered that office altogether.
Instead, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement will now offer a “more comprehensive and inclusive victim support system” known as the Victims Engagement and Services Line. It will, among other things, allow people to report mistreatment in immigration detention centers and alert lawyers interested in immigration cases. The Biden administration’s move essentially expands who constitutes a victim of the immigration system to include immigrant victims of human trafficking and violent crimes and those suffering in detention. The administration’s move comes on the heels of sharp criticism for Vice President Kamala Harris telling migrants during a trip to Guatemala: “Do not come” to the US.
The Trump-era office known as the Victim Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office (VOICE) faltered in its mission to link undocumented immigrants to violent crime, relying on the false premise that immigrants perpetuated criminal offenses, even though a 2019 study found that undocumented people in Texas were half as likely to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses than those born in the US. The VOICE hotline ultimately was used mostly as a way for undocumented folks to get assistance. According to an Associated Press report on the hotline:
Its most recent quarterly report posted online for the last three months of 2018 said it fielded 781 calls during the three-month period—and that just 256 of the calls pertained to services it offered. About half were requests on the status of immigration cases, and many of the rest were referrals for assistance, such as social services to help cope with impacts of domestic violence or assault.
“Providing assistance to society’s most vulnerable is a core American value,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said about the closure of VOICE. “All people, regardless of their immigration status, should be able to access victim services without fear.”