Kelly rolls out office for victims of immigrant criminals

Kelly rolls out office for victims of immigrant criminals
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced Wednesday the opening of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, an initiative ordered by President Trump to provide support to victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

"There’s nothing but goodness in what we’re doing today in establishing this office, as it’s an outreach to victims of these crimes," Kelly said.

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As part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the primary task for VOICE will be to provide victims and family members information on the migratory status of foreigners accused or convicted of committing a crime.

"Victims of all types of crimes can get information from various resources about what's happened to the perpetrators in the criminal justice system, but there wasn't anyone there to be able to tell them what's happening on the immigration side," said Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman David Lapan.

Trump ordered the creation of the office in a January executive order, announcing it at his address to a joint session of Congress in February.

"I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement," Trump said at the time, eliciting moans from Democrats in the room.

"It's a piece of propaganda pushed by the Trump administration that's going to spread fear about a community," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) told The Hill on Wednesday.

"People are going to criticize whatever we do," Lapan said. "Our point is to give a voice to this particular group of individuals who hasn't had that."

In his executive order, Trump directed the new office to provide "quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States."

Officials said they are still in the process determining the content of those reports because it's unclear how many information requests they will receive.

DHS officials declined to give an estimate on how many cases VOICE will cover.

"We see this as an initial step of standing up the office. It will evolve," Lapan said.

A VOICE official speaking on background said the office would not use any new resources, but would redirect ICE's community relations officers to the new task. The office will also use ICE's call center and a website as resources for victims.

Officials said users will be able to submit requests for information anonymously, as long as they claim to be victims, witnesses, individuals legally acting on behalf of victims and witnesses, or "individuals acting at the request of a victim or witness."

Those individuals will be able to ask VOICE for immigration status information on documented or undocumented foreigners accused of a crime, according to DHS.

That raised red flags for Gallego.

"It's a privacy concern and a potential for abuse by extremists to abuse people," he charged.

DHS officials said the system will adhere to ICE's current privacy practices and only provide the level of information that could be available to the media upon request.

And Kelly emphasized that VOICE would not be a tool for reporting immigration violations and VOICE will not ask victims and witnesses about their own residency status, according to DHS.

"It is not for reporting illegal aliens; it is not for reporting crimes; it is not for curious reporters," Kelly said.