DHS Launches Trump’s Immigration Victims Office

DHS Secretary John Kelly holds a press conference on the new office Wednesday. DHS Secretary John Kelly holds a press conference on the new office Wednesday. Susan Walsh/AP

The Homeland Security Department has officially launched a new office to help victims of crimes committed by non-citizen immigrants receive assistance and information on the status of the alleged perpetrators, though it will receive little in the way of new resources.

The Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office follows through on a promise President Trump made during the campaign and an executive order he signed in January. VOICE will be housed within Immigration and Customs Enforcement and will not hire any new staff; it will receive funding only from existing resources. DHS officials said they did not want to hire employees unnecessarily and they may bring on more staff later as they determine the volume of inquiries coming in.

DHS created a new hotline for the crime victims, which will be staffed by 12 existing operators. Those operators will offer updates on the deportation status of the perpetrators -- through the Victim Information and Notification Exchange -- and connect them to community relations staff. ICE currently employs 21 of those officers spread throughout its outposts. Both those officers and the phone operators will continue to do their normal duties in addition to the new VOICE responsibilities. VOICE can also connect those who call in to 27 victim assistance specialists across the country who currently work with Homeland Security Investigations.

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Only a few individuals in ICE’s headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and the phone operators -- who have been specially trained to handle calls from the victims -- will work specifically for VOICE.

“Until now, victims had no point of contact in the federal government,” DHS Secretary John Kelly said at a press conference at ICE headquarters. “That ends today.”

While the office will not yet receive new resources, DHS officials said it was more than just a branding effort in that it would consolidate tasks that had previously been spread through the department. The officials said they did not have any statistics available on the number of Americans who have been victimized by immigrants.

David Lapan, a DHS spokesman, said the office was not meant to imply that immigrants were disproportionately responsible for committing crimes, but simply to provide assistance to the victims of a small subset of those who do. He added the timing had “nothing to do with” fulfilling a Trump administration promise within his first 100 days -- a marker the president will meet on Friday -- and was just a matter of determining the resources from which the new office would draw.

The VOICE program is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration. Trump has proposed hiring 10,000 new ICE officers to ramp up deportations, as well as an additional 5,500 Customs and Border Protection officers to increase border security. DHS has also loosened who can be deported on an expedited basis and is looking to increase its detention capacity. 

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