In April, the Trump Administration launched what it called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) hotline, with a stated mission to “provide proactive, timely, adequate, and professional services to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens.” But internal logs of calls to VOICE obtained by Splinter show that hundreds of Americans seized on the hotline to lodge secret accusations against acquaintances, neighbors, or even their own family members, often to advance petty personal grievances.
The logs—hundreds of which were available for download on the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement web site despite containing extremely sensitive personal information—call to mind the efforts of closed societies like East Germany or Cuba to cultivate vast networks of informants and an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.
The reports rarely involve the sort of dangerous criminality that Donald Trump campaigned against. Despite the VOICE office’s statement that the service “is not a hotline to report crime,” callers are using it to alert Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to minor infractions, or merely to the presence of people they suspect of being undocumented immigrants.
Caller wanted to report his next door neighbor. Caller claims his next door neighbors are undocumented and are from South America. Caller claims two boys’ ages 14 and 15 reside there along with an adult male. Caller provided his next door neighbor’s address as [street and number redacted by Splinter], St. Augustine, FL [ZIP code redacted by Splinter].
The summaries are drawn from two spreadsheets documenting incoming calls to the VOICE hotline. The first, provided to Splinter by ICE in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, covers the first two weeks of the hotline’s operation in April. It was redacted by ICE to protect the privacy of callers and subjects.
But after conducting Google searches for some data in that spreadsheet, including local police report numbers provided by callers, we were able to find a second spreadsheet, covering April to mid-August, hosted on the ICE web site. That spreadsheet appears to have been partially redacted to prepare it for release under the FOIA, but two columns containing intimate personal details—names, cell phone numbers, alleged crimes, addresses, and Social Security numbers—of both callers and the alleged undocumented immigrants they were calling about remained completely unredacted and publicly available. In several cases, the details would make it possible for people to figure out who informed on them.
Brendan Raedy, an ICE spokesperson, declined a request to speak on the phone about the logs or the publication of private data. In response to a series of emailed questions, he wrote only: “It’s important to know that ICE/VOICE is not using victim personal information to develop leads for immigration enforcement. Callers are not even asked for their status. Information is shared with Victim Assistance Specialists to help when and where they can.”
Together, the logs are a grim running diary of a country where people eagerly report their fellow residents to the authorities, or seek to bring the power of the immigration police to bear on family disputes. On May 25, 2017, one man called to say that his stepson was violating a restraining order by parking his car near his house. He didn’t want his wife to know that he was trying to get her son deported:
Caller stated the illegal alien (step-son) is a drug addict, unemployed, homeless and living in his car that he parks at [address redacted by Splinter]. Caller stated the subject is a danger to society and wants to know why he was not taken into ICE custody. Caller stated the subject recently missing his court hearing [number and date redacted by Splinter] and is now in probation violation. Caller provided A number, name [redacted by Splinter], DOB, and COB. Caller stated he does not want his wife to know and prefers not to be reached at his cell number [redacted by Splinter] that he shares with her.
Other complaints likewise focused on family strife:
Caller requested to report her mother-in law and sister-in law. Caller stated these individuals came to the U.S. as tourists and stayed in the U.S. in order to get legal status.
Caller stated the undocumented individual is destroying her family and is committing adultery.
Caller requested to report his ex wife that is undocumented as an overstayed on her visa.
Caller requested to report the illegal alien because the illegal alien will not let her see [her] granddaughter.
One caller went so far as to provide the date and location of an upcoming divorce hearing at which the accused undocumented immigrant was scheduled to appear.
Caller requested to report an undocumented alien who is accusing him of domestic violence in order to obtain legal status. Caller claims subject is his legal wife.
Caller wanted to know how to report an illegal marriage (sham marriage) with an immigration benefit involved. Caller stated that the subject [name redacted by Splinter] pressed domestic violence charges against her in order to receive a Visa.
Caller claimed subject made false accusations of domestic violence towards the caller. Caller claimed subject is trying to claim Asylum through the false accusation of domestic violation in order for subject to stay in the U.S.
Javier H. Valdés, the co-executive director of the immigration-rights group Make the Road New York, wrote in an email to Splinter that the logs demonstrate VOICE was little more than an attempt to sow fear and suspicion of immigrants. “Months after the creation of the VOICE program, it’s clear that it’s exactly what we feared it would be,” he wrote. “A sinister public relations ploy to paint immigrants as criminals and foster fear in our communities, all with the despicable goal of tearing apart our families. The program should be immediately ended.”
Publicly, the VOICE hotline is not supposed to be a crime-reporting tool at all, but a means of connecting victims and witnesses in existing cases with support services and with more information about the people accused. But internal training materials for the hotline, obtained by Splinter, contradict that mission statement, saying that the hotline “will provide a means for persons to report suspected criminal activity.”
Callers were often referred to the Homeland Security Investigations tipline. In several cases, VOICE employees contacted a field office to relay information gleaned from the calls, records show.
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