In his first speech to Congress on Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced a program to provide information and support to families that have experienced crime at the hands of unauthorized immigrants. Yet in reality, the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office is a front for a propaganda campaign designed to convince Americans that most undocumented immigrants living in the country are dangerous criminals, even though studies show otherwise.
According to various studies, immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than citizens do. So if the goal were really to support victims of violent sections of the U.S. population, the president would have to create an office for victims of crimes committed by men—a group that actually does commit crimes far above the rate of the general population.
But the VOICE office has nothing to do with crime control or victim services. What it does is further the Trump administration’s end game of driving migrants of color out of the country, regardless of their legal status. His team is rapidly putting in place the infrastructure for mass deportations and fomenting a hostile social environment to force thousands of immigrant families to return to their home countries.
The VOICE program first appeared in the Jan. 25 executive order on border security. Amid the press attention paid to the border wall and crisis in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, few noted this unprecedented proposal. In February, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wrote two memos on illegal immigration enforcement, one of which states, with no documentation, “Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents.” The measure authorized the establishment of VOICE through diverting “all resources used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens.”
The other Department of Homeland Security memo strips non-citizens or non-legal residents of most Privacy Act rights and mandates public reporting on apprehensions, including “the number of convicted criminals and the nature of their offenses; the prevalence of gang members and prior immigration violators; the custody status of aliens and, if released, the reason for release and location of that release; and the number of aliens ordered removed and those aliens physically removed.”
White House senior strategist Stephen Bannon has long espoused the sweeping measures to purge the U.S. of Latino immigrants that Trump is currently making possible. Recall that under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News suggested that a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America were entering the country. While the numbers had been increasing steadily for more than a year with no one paying particular attention to the deterioration of conditions in the region, Breitbart sensationalized the issue as a crisis, bringing national attention to it and forcing a governmental response.
Alongside initial sympathy for the migrant children grew an image of America overrun by Latino foreigners who had infiltrated through legal loopholes for minors. President Barack Obama declared an “urgent humanitarian situation” at the time, but instead of responding to why children were leaving their home countries, initiated a major crackdown. Central American countries were pressured to stop people from leaving and harden their borders, despite the fact that many fleeing had received credible death threats from gangs or the same corrupt security forces that were now being funded to stop them.
Last August, at a speech in the middle of the presidential campaign, Trump inflamed the narrative further, presenting the “Angel Moms,” a group of mothers who said their children were killed by unauthorized migrants. This vulgar manipulation of maternal grief to vilify a racial group caused some indignation, but Trump continued the ploy in last week’s speech to Congress, where he also publicly presented families of immigrant crime victims.
By establishing what’s perceived of as a “criminal alien” registry and highlighting victims, it doesn’t matter if there are two or 2,000 criminal acts committed by unauthorized immigrants. The point is to create the broad image of them as dangerous criminals. Trump and anti-immigrant groups have long sensationalized individual cases to hide the statistical evidence that undocumented immigrants are less likely than citizens to commit crimes. Meanwhile, crime rates in the U.S.-Mexico border region are among the lowest in a country where overall violent crime rates have dropped by 50% since 1990, according to a report from the NYU Brennan Center for Justice.
The American carnage narrative that Trump used in his inauguration speech has become a fear-mongering device used against undocumented immigrants, about three quarters of whom come from four Latin American countries—Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The idea at the heart of this narrative is to return America to a white, male-dominated society, and to do it before the demographics flip. Census data shows that “minorities” will soon become the majority in the U.S., as immigrants of color, including generations of African, indigenous Latin American, and to a lesser degree, Asian descendants overtake the Caucasian European immigrants that the Trump administration falsely deems real Americans.
Trump is determined to destroy the political power of a younger and more diverse America by any means necessary. VOICE gives voice to an authoritarian culture that would not only silence, but actively suppress a peaceful and vibrant society that believes diversity has always been America’s strength.
Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy.