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Biden Closes Trump-Era Office Over Alleged Immigrant Crimes
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Biden Closes Trump-Era Office Over Alleged Immigrant Crimes


SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Biden administration announced Friday that it has closed a Trump-era government office that assisted victims of crimes committed by immigrants, a move that exemplifies President Joe Biden's rejection of former President Donald Trump's repeated attempts to link immigrants to crime.

During his first week in office in January 2017, Trump established the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, abbreviated VOICE, by executive order.

VOICE will be replaced by a "more comprehensive and inclusive victim support system," according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Victims Engagement and Services Line will replace VOICE by combining long-standing existing services, such as methods for people to report abuse and mistreatment in immigration detention centers and a notification system for lawyers and others with an interest in immigration cases.

The new office will provide a service for potential visa recipients who are victims of human trafficking or violent crimes in the United States.

“Helping society’s most vulnerable is a core American value, and all people, regardless of immigration status, should be able to access victim services without fear,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The decision to close VOICE, according to Stephen Miller, a key architect of Trump's immigration policies, is a "moral stain on the conscience of our nation."

He compared the new office to the Drug Enforcement Administration establishing “a call center to assist drug dealers in obtaining lawyers and amnesty for their crimes.”

Miller stated that the Department of Homeland Security is a law enforcement agency, not a legal aid clinic for criminals and lawbreakers.

During the Trump administration, Jon Feere, an ICE official, stated that he referred a man to VOICE after his sister was killed by an intoxicated driver and that the office assisted families in understanding the status of immigration cases.

The difference in tone between the two administrations on immigration has been noticeable.

While studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, Trump relentlessly sought to establish a link during his 2016 presidential campaign, portraying Mexicans in the country illegally as violent criminals and frequently highlighting the MS-13 gang, which was founded by Salvadoran immigrants.

Trump invited "angel families" — people whose loved ones had been victims of crimes committed by immigrants — to campaign rallies and high-profile speeches to advance his immigration agenda.

Trump's victim-assistance office appears to have had little impact.

Its most recent quarterly report, which was posted online for the last three months of 2018, stated that it fielded 781 calls during the three-month period — and that only 256 of those calls were about services it provided. About half of the calls were about the status of immigration cases, and many of the rest were referrals for help, such as social services to help cope with the effects of domestic violence or assault.

The Trump administration used the office to promote the connection between immigrants and crime.

“I’ve had to hold the hand of too many mothers who have lost a child due to a DUI or someone else who has been raped by an illegal alien or someone with a nexus to immigration,” Barbara Gonzalez, the then-director of VOICE, told reporters in October 2019.

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In April, the Biden administration directed U.S. officials to refrain from using terms such as "illegal alien" and instead to refer to undocumented noncitizens.

Some of the administration's pro-immigrant allies slammed Vice President Kamala Harris for telling would-be migrants during a visit to Guatemala on Monday, "Do not come... Do not come," and threatening them with deportation if they crossed the border into the United States.

Julie Watson of the Associated Press contributed reporting.

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