Life in the “Constitution-Free Zone”
I.C.E. encourages ratting out your neighbors
Did you know that you may be living in a “Constitution-Free Zone?” Me neither, at least until recently. It’s the area, within 100 miles of any United States border, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers can pull your car over – without a warrant or probable cause – to check whether you or any of your passengers might be undocumented immigrants. A hundred miles might not seem like much, but it turns out that roughly eighty percent of the entire U.S. population live in that zone. It includes, for example, the entire state of Massachusetts (where I live) as well as Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
That’s bad enough, but a hotline recently set up by ICE aims to recruit citizens to turn in their neighbors as well. The hotline has received hundreds of tips from Americans accusing “acquaintances, neighbors, or even their own family members” of being in the country illegally. That’s the word from the opinion/news site Splinter, which recently reported on a trove of ICE documents it was able to access online.
Authors Daniel Rivero and Brendan O’Connor report that the new “outreach” program from ICE is called VOICE, standing for “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” and its supposed purpose is to “provide proactive, timely, adequate, and professional services to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens.” However, Splinter’s research didn’t find any information about what those services might be – other than removing said aliens.
VOICE’s website says, “With honor and integrity, we will support victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens through access to information and resources.” Those resources include a toll-free hotline “to answer questions from victims,” and those questions may evidently include the current status of an allegedly undocumented person. The program promises “a victim-centered approach to acknowledge and support immigration crime victims and their families.”
On the website’s home page, ICE repeatedly uses the terms “crimes,” “victims,” “criminal aliens,” and “criminal activity by aliens,” without further definition. Yet it also inserts a starred note stating that “This is not a hotline to report crime – to do that you have to call a different ICE number. It does NOT explain that entering the country without authorization is a misdemeanor and not a criminal offense unless the person has previously been deported for illegal entry.
“The men and women comprising the VOICE Office will be guided by a singular, straightforward mission – to ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process. ICE wants to ensure those victimized by criminal aliens feel heard, seen and supported.”
The implication – presumably intended – is that any offense committed by an undocumented immigrant is a crime, and that all such offenses are somehow worse or more serious than the same offense committed by anyone else. There’s no reason that local law enforcement and judges are not perfectly able to deal with misdemeanors committed by immigrants – just as they do with misdemeanors by anyone else. But if ICE gets there first, it doesn’t have to deal with those messy issues of constitutional rights. It can skip right past those annoying first amendment guarantees and go straight to the real point of all this: branding undocumented immigrants as threats to our safety, and the rest of us as their helpless victims.
However, as the result of a misstep by someone at ICE, Splinter was able to access a spreadsheet that “appears to have been partially redacted” but still included personal information about allegedly undocumented persons that could identify and locate them for ICE.
As the Splinter story points out, though, “On many of the calls, the only violation the informant offers…is that the people exist.” An example: “Caller wanted to report his next door neighbor. Caller claims his next door neighbors are from South America. Caller claims two boys reside there with an adult male…”
“Caller,” however, offered zero evidence that any of the family members are undocumented or have committed any offense other than being there. “Together,” the Splinter article notes, “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…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…and is now in probation violation…Caller stated he does not want his wife to know and prefers not to be reached at his cell number that he shares with her.”
Another caller wanted to report that her mother-in-law and sister-in-law had overstayed their tourist visas to get legal status, and yet another wanted to turn in his ex-wife for overstaying her visa. 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 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.
The Splinter authors say that three days before they went to press they notified ICE about having discovered the article – presumably, though they don’t say so, hoping for a response. They didn’t get one, and the information remained on the ICE site until a few hours after publication of Splinter’s leak, when, according to the magazine, “all the public records that the agency has ever released went offline.”
NOTE: After I’d finished the above piece, my wife (also a blogger) came in to let me know that she’d come across a competing article on NPR: “People Are Reporting Criminal (Space) Aliens To New ICE Hotline. It gave us a few laughs – let’s hope it’s giving the folks over at ICE heartburn.
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