The Trump administration has begun publishing its promised weekly “list” of crimes committed by immigrants. These weekly reports are attempts to fulfill the mission of a new agency within the Department of Homeland Security called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Declined Detainer Outcome Reports list counties that did not turn immigrants allegedly convicted or charged with crimes over to ICE for detention and removal. But analyses have shown they are cherry-picked; they over-represent sanctuary locales, Latin Americans and detainer denials for people actually convicted of crimes. VOICE is the rhetorical arm of the administration’s war on immigrants, and we must fight back.
Perhaps VOICE should be renamed “Victims Of ICE,” because the victims I know are those subjected to the terrors of the lawless and arbitrary US immigration detention system — a system built on lies long before Trump’s arrival.
Despite how frequently the “criminal immigrant” trope appears in Breitbart News and as a prop throughout Trump’s campaign, statistically speaking, it is false. There has never been a positive correlation between immigration and crime rates. And localities adhering to sanctuary policies are even proven to besafer. However, as much as these facts matter, debates over immigrant criminality make us miss the point. The trope is not only false, but also a foil. Trump’s script-flipping tactics are an outrage, a distraction and a justification for his power-grabbing immigration executive orders. And they will continue to confound us unless we fully uproot the white supremacy that has long shaped US immigration policy.
Trump’s weekly lists are already drawingNazi comparisons, but comparisons closer to home are just as apt. Propaganda conflating immigration, people ofcolor and crime justified Chinese Exclusion and detentions at Angel Island, mass deportations of Mexicans and Filipinos during the Great Depression, and Japanese internment during World War II. During the war, we even relocated Japanese Latin Americans to the United States for imprisonment in the name of securing our southern border. No cases of espionage were ever found.
Think these are shameful episodes from a long-gone American past? The criminalization of immigrants has only accelerated mass incarceration in the post-war era. While President Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman admitted that the war on drugs was devised to criminalize Black communities in the 1970s, the global dimensions of Reagan’s war on drugs netted immigrants in new policies of drug and immigrant interdiction, border militarization and prison privatization.
Clinton’s 1996 immigration laws doubled down on these policies. And since 9/11, the “war on terror” has given us a new national security framework for justifying immigration detention. Never mind that there is no documented case of terror linked to a US-Mexico border crossing. But old habits die hard, and the notion that our immigration detention system is necessary for national security endures.
In all, Trump’s lists are an attempt to justify expanding detainers and the detention system itself. Trump’s recent immigration executive order gives ICEagents the power to consider apprehending immigrants not only for criminal convictions, but “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” This can include a slip-up on an I-9 form, a DUI or even using food stamps. Or having suspected gang affiliations, which has long been one of ICE’s favorite excuses to detain people.
Stories collected by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) tell a different narrative — one in which ICE is the perpetrator of grave human and civil rights abuses.
Take Mayra Machado, 30, a “regular soccer mom” who came to the United States as a five-year-old. ICE arrested her during a traffic stop in 2015 due to her forging a check when she was 18. She spent over a year in detention and is now in El Salvador, separated from her three children in Arkansas.
Or consider Kapi, who is currently detained for the second time due to a clerical error on ICE’s part. ICE says they will not release him because he poses a “threat” to his Huntington Beach community. Ask his American fiancée, his friends, his employees and the domestic violence shelter he volunteers at how much of a threat he is.
Or consider Omar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba from Nicaragua, 32, who died last week after hanging himself in his cell at the GEO Group-run Adelanto Detention Facility in California. He is the fifth person to die in ICE custody in 2017.
Immigration detention is a civil, discretionary procedure. All 42,000 people being detained right now are not being imprisoned for the commission of a crime. They are not threats to our communities. They are asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, US veterans and even legal permanent residents with longstanding community ties.
Media-makers must remain vigilant. Even pro-migrant outlets like Univision — which correctly call out Trump’s list for what it is, targeting Latinos who have not even been convicted — have still allowed Trump to control the narrative by framing the discussion of immigration control around national security concerns. We applaud thegrowing visibility of immigration detention in the media, deep-dive investigations that expose the private prison industry,op-eds written by people in detention and reporting that calls us all out for looking away from the far-reaching impacts of immigration enforcement — especially on Black immigrant communities.
The onus is on us to counter Trump’s lies. This is why CIVIC has created its own agency called VOICE: Victims of ICE. We will be publishing weekly reports naming ICE’s crimes and lifting up the voices of those subjected to the injustices of detention.
We invite you to join us.