The president’s new “see something, say something” program isn’t about national security, even if he’ll claim it is. It’s about gathering whatever bits of evidence he can use to shore up his repeated claims about “dangerous” immigrants. The narrative doesn’t work without it. Unfortunately, despite the money and manpower being thrown at it, the lack of “bad hombre” data continues to undermine this administration’s assertions.
Last year kicked off with a bunch of ICE sweeps. Done in hopes of rustling up enough undocumented hardened criminals, it was a robust failure. Communications obtained from ICE show it inflated the number of “egregious” cases by cannibalizing reports from other jurisdictions, if not travelling back in time to include violators seized during 2016 raids. Even the inflated numbers were underwhelming.
The next step was the VOICE hotline — a place where citizens could report suspicious individuals they suspected were undocumented and known criminals/immigrants. Calls are fielded 12 hours a day, supported by $ 1 million in annual funding taken directly from “any and all resources that are currently used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens.”
Data leaked by ICE showed this plan wasn’t working either. A majority of the calls received reported aliens of extraterrestrial origin when not showering staffers with obscenities. The more “legitimate” complaints weren’t all that legitimate. Many of the calls discussing illegal immigrants were nothing more than estranged spouses, angry parents, and other such upstanding Americans attempting to use ICE as an on-call vigilante force to remove people they didn’t like from their lives.
VOICE is still in operation and has finally delivered its first report. As Vera Bergegruen reports for Buzzfeed, there’s no success story to be found in its pages.
Since April of last year, six operators sitting at a call center in Laguna Niguel, California, have fielded an astonishing range of calls for 12 hours a day.
One caller asked to make a reservation at a Trump hotel. Another called to report that “a ‘coyote’ stole his cat.” Then there was the one who “requested to report Melania Trump, who is stealing caller’s taxpayer funds.” Another complained that “illegal aliens are going into her yard and taking food from her garden.”
Dozens of callers reported space aliens, some going into the details of what dates they were abducted by UFOs — all dutifully logged by the operators. Hundreds called to denounce ex-spouses, neighbors, and business rivals whom they suspected of being in the country illegally.
A much smaller number called to request information about the immigration status or the custody status of alleged criminals who are undocumented immigrants — the original purpose of the toll-free hotline.
It’s more of the same stuff (inadvertently) reported by ICE when it moved an unredacted spreadsheet of call center info to an unprotected space on its document server. And it’s more of the same petty misuse of government resources — both by people trying to deputize ICE to fix their personal problems and prank callers seeking to derail the office’s limited usefulness.
What can’t be found anywhere in this report [PDF] is a justification for its ongoing existence. $ 1 million a year was supposed to buy the administration a whole lot of anti-immigrant narrative. Even in terms of this disingenuous effort, it has failed. But it goes beyond that. Even if you cede the argument that hardline immigration enforcement is necessary for the health and the security of this nation, the lack of actionable info makes it a waste of time and money.
[T]he office’s first “quarterly report,” released just over a week ago, 15 months after the office was officially launched and covering April through September of last year, provides no information on how many of the more than 4,000 calls it received involved crimes by undocumented immigrants. Nor does it say much about the “effects of victimization by criminal aliens” who, in the words of the memo that announced its establishment, “routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents.”
More than half the calls have nothing to do with immigrants, immigration enforcement, or reports of illegal activity. Sure, lots of this can be chalked up to prank callers, but many of these calls are also of the “I saw a Mexican in my neighborhood” variety. It’s a vehicle for petty vindictiveness, which adds nothing to the understanding of the supposed immigration “problem,” nor aids in the apprehension of actual dangerous criminals.
The report data shows 972 calls reporting crimes, but the underlying data shows many of these calls were reporting nothing more than perceived illegality related to citizenship.
[M]ore than one in five users used it as a tip line to report people they suspected of being in the country illegally — which the office is not supposed to handle, and has to refer to ICE’s tip line. Call logs show that the bulk of their allegations — marriage fraud, faking signatures, employing undocumented workers — was a far cry from the violent crimes the president cites when he talks about “criminal aliens.”
The decision to give ICE its own “see something, say something” hotline makes no sense. The DHS’s hotline — tied to its multiple “Fusion Center” boondoggles — has resulted in little more than an expanding collection of non-actionable anecdotes from citizens who treat these call centers as a hotline for the redress of personal grievances where they can turn in neighbors, in-laws, their kids’ friends, the sketchy-looking guy at the mall, etc. for simply existing. The fuel being thrown on the rhetorical fire by this administration has still failed to coalesce into a data-driven narrative about dangerous immigrants, but it’s not for a lack of trying.
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