The Biden administration has dismantled and replaced a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office created during the Trump presidency to help victims of crimes committed by immigrants in a further break with his predecessor’s border policies.
Trump launched VOICE (Victim Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office) in an executive order during his first week in office in 2017.
VOICE "was created to acknowledge and serve the needs of crime victims and their families who have been affected by crimes committed by individuals under the investigative jurisdiction of ICE," the Department of Homeland Security says on its website.
"I’ve had to hold the hand of too many mothers who lost a child to a DUI or somebody else who’s been raped by an illegal alien or someone with a nexus to immigration," Barbara Gonzalez, the then-director of VOICE, said in October 2019. "It is a problem we cannot ignore as a country."
The current administration plans to replace VOICE with The Victims Engagement and Services Line, which ICE called a "more comprehensive and inclusive victim support system" that will allow reports of crimes from anyone regardless of their immigration status.
"Providing assistance to society’s most vulnerable is a core American value. All people, regardless of their immigration status, should be able to access victim services without fear," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
Victims can report mistreatment at immigration centers and the new office plans to designate potential visas for victims of human trafficking or violent crimes in the United States.
Stephen Miller, who helped craft many of Trump’s signature immigration policies, slammed the move as a "moral stain on the conscience of our nation" and compared the new office’s mission to allowing drug dealers to get help from the Drug Enforcement Administration for their crimes.
DHS "is a law enforcement agency, not a legal help center for criminals and lawbreakers," he added.
VOICE’s most recent quarterly report posted online for the last three months of 2018 said it fielded 781 calls during the three-month period — and that just 256 of the calls pertained to services it offered. About half were requests on the status of immigration cases, and many of the rest were referrals for assistance, such as social services to help cope with impacts of domestic violence or assault.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who President Biden tapped to study the root causes of the border crisis, has faced bipartisan criticism for not visiting the border, for telling Guatemalan citizens to not try to come to the U.S. for asylum while on a trip there this week and for interview answers on her Central American trip that some said made her appear ill-prepared.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week said Harris "may" visit the border but wouldn’t specify a date.
Biden has faced a record surge of migrants at the border in the first months of his presidency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.