President Donald Trump prompted audible groans during his joint address to Congress on Tuesday night, when he brought up plans to highlight crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and create a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office.
“We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests,” Trump said, introducing four guests he had invited whose family members had allegedly been killed by immigrants living in the US illegally.
“To Jamiel, Jenna, Susan, and Jessica: I want you to know — we will never stop fighting for justice. Your loved ones will never be forgotten, we will always honor their memory,” Trump said.
The creation of VOICE has prompted confusion and anger among immigration experts and advocates, who have been quick to point out that targeting criminal immigrants makes little sense given crime statistics on the matter.
Decades-worth of data indicate that immigrants commit far less and are far less likely to commit crime than native born Americans, as has been reported by Business Insider’s Veronika Bondarenko.
“The fact is, you can find crimes committed by any group, no matter how you define them. Immigrants, native-born, white men, Latino men — you’re going to find criminals of any demographic category. And to choose one and blame them for crime in general is just very disingenuous,” said Walter Ewing, a senior researcher at the American Immigration Council, who added that VOICE is nothing short of “scapegoating.”
Given that there is no data that proves undocumented immigrants are a demographic intrinsically prone to crime, blaming immigrants as a group for crime is poor logic, Ewing told Business Insider.
Trump’s message wasn’t lost on his supporters, however, who approved of the way he specifically addressed victims’ families.
“What President Trump did, and no other candidate on either side has acknowledged, is the tragic effects of illegal immigration,” Maria Espinoza, national director of the Remembrance Project, which advocates for victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants, told the Washington Times.
A memo released by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week detailed the department’s plans for the office, including the creation of a “programmatic liaison” between its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants.
The office will be funded by the resources that currently go toward advocacy efforts for undocumented immigrants, according to the memo, and the liaison will ensure the victims and their families are given information about offenders, including their immigration and custody statuses. ICE is currently “drafting outreach materials” for victims, according to the DHS.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the VOICE program “ridiculous” on Wednesday, and said law enforcement should be targeting all crime — not just those incidents that involve immigrants.
“The overwhelming majority of immigrants are law-abiding, they want to be part of the American dream, and most Americans agree with that,” Schumer said on CBS This Morning. “So to put an office like this out there shows how anti-immigrant this president is.”
‘Hate speech results in hate crimes’
Drawing a connection between immigrants and crime with no evidence can prove dangerous for undocumented immigrants who may now find themselves targeted by anti-immigration groups who now feel “emboldened” by Trump’s presidency, Ewing said.
Last week, for instance, a gunman allegedly opened fire on two Indian men in an Olathe, Kansas bar, killing one and injuring the other, as well as a bystander who tried to intervene.
Alok Madasani, the injured victim, told the New York Times that the shooter had asked the two men whether they were in the country illegally and which visas they held — questions which critics say were enabled by language Trump has perpetually used to garner political appeal.
“We are looking at some of not only the most anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies in our history, but also the creation of this nativist, xenophobic culture that actually is what has allowed for two guest workers from India to have been killed last week,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center told media Wednesday.
“The hate crimes that have happened in this country since the election have not happened in a vacuum. They have happened because hate speech results in hate crimes and hate incidents.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has backed this assertion up, calling 2016 an “unprecedented” year for hate due to the growth in the number of hate groups in the US to 917 from 892 the year earlier.
“The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists,” the SPLC’s Mark Potok said.
Trump addressed the Olathe shooting in his speech Tuesday, following several days of criticism for not mentioning it sooner: “We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.
But Ewing said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have already been percolating for some time — and he has now made those ideas mainstream.
“It’s not that he’s directly provoking them, but the anti-immigrant groups see his presidency as a validation of their beliefs, and as a license to do what they’ve always wanted to do, which is attack immigrants either literally or figuratively,” he said.