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New DHS office helps victims of illegal immigrant crime

By Mike Bambach
New DHS office helps victims of illegal immigrant crime
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, left, speaks as Chief of United States Border Patrol Ronald Vitiello, right, looks on during a meeting held at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Feb. 10, 2017. On Wednesday, Kelly announced the creation of a new office that will serve victims of immigration-related crime. Photo by Howard Shen/UPI | License Photo

April 26 (UPI) -- In the Trump Administration's latest immigration crackdown, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a new program Wednesday to help "unique" victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

Opponents said the initiative, which fulfills President Donald Trump's executive order on interior immigration enforcement signed in January, only serves to vilify an embattled immigrant population.

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"All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique -- and too often ignored," Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said in announcing announcing VOICE -- the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office.

"They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place -- because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place."

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Kelly said the program will focus on a "victim-centered approach" by providing custody status, release dates and other information to victims, witnesses and their representatives. There's also a toll-free hotline -- 1-855-48-VOICE or 1-855-488-6423.

Kelly said he intended "nothing but goodness," a claim disputed by immigrant advocates. Some cited the DHS statement's description of undocumented immigrants as "criminal aliens."

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"This really isn't about helping victims," said Brent Wilkes, chief executive of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is considering the lawsuit. "It's really about trying to vilify the immigrant population in this country and using that to their political advantage."

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Opponents, who indicated they might file suit to block VOICE, said the program might be addressing a problem that doesn't exist.

A 2015 report by the American Immigration Council showed that from 1980-2000 immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the U.S. among men ages 18-49.

Proponents applauded the new program.

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"I'm elated that the VOICE has started," said Michelle Root, one of the relatives of victims who attended the program's launch.

Her 21-year-old daughter Sarah Root was killed last year, allegedly by a drunk driver in the United States illegally. Michelle Root said she struggled to get information from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.The suspect, Eswin Mejia of Honduras, posted bail in his criminal case and disappeared.

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