A particularly jarring part of President Donald Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday night (February 28) was his announcement of a new office out of the Department of Homeland Security called VOICE or Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. The office, said Trump, will “serve American victims” of crimes committed by undocumented people. ”We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests,” he said.
The idea of VOICE is rooted in a type of xenophobic framing that history has warned us against. It serves to drum up unnecessary fear in the populace, to criminalize and scapegoat immigrants, and to use the public’s fear to justify further expansion of law and immigration enforcement.
Within the context of Trump’s previous descriptions of undocumented Mexican people as “bad hombres” and rapists, VOICE functions as anti-Latino dog whistle. And with his false claim that ”the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” the president not-so-subtly brands all Arab, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants as suspicious and potentially violent.
To dramatize what he’s named as a big problem, Trump introduced the families of Jamiel Shaw Jr., Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver and Detective Michael Davis, three people murdered by undocumented immigrants . While the deaths of Davis, Oliver and Shaw are tragic, they are not reflective of a wave of crimes committed by immigrants. The Marshall Project has found that immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans and may even cause crime to decline. The twin stereotypes of the immigrant gang member and the foreign-born Muslim terrorist demonize entire communities for the acts of few. The scapegoating of immigrants and people harkens back to darker periods in America and other parts of the world.
Throughout history, we have seen the sentiment behind VOICE tap into an unjustified fear of immigrants and people treated as non-citizens due to race and religion. We saw this in Nazi Germany where propaganda promoting tales of Jewish criminals were plastered across the country. In France, French Algerians were stereotyped as thieves, thugs and pariahs, especially during the French-Algerian War. And in America, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909 helped to cast Chinese immigrants as immoral heathens invading the country. The lynching of Chinese people was common in the Western region of the country during this period.
VOICE fits into the president’s shock and awe immigration strategy. Soon after he was elected, he signed the ““Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” executive order that mandates the White House to publish weekly lists of “criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.” The order drew harsh criticism from Democrats and promises of pushback from mayors of major sanctuary cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. As Ben Kentish wrote in The Independent ”the decision to publish a list of immigrant crimes is reminiscent of the ‘Black crime’ listings on Breitbart News.”
VOICE comes as a bitter irony given the spike in hate violence against people perceived to be Muslim and foreign-born. If an office like VOICE does anything, it will not make America any safer. It will only exploit tragedy to promote this Administration’s form of nationalism that is empowered by fear, anger and xenophobia.