Silencing VOICE

Despite being shuttered by Biden, the need for ICE's victim-assistance office is greater than ever

By Jon Feere on May 3, 2022
VOICE brochure


Five years ago last week, the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office was established within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It's been nearly a year since Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas abolished the office, as part of the White House quest to undo all immigration-related actions of the prior administration. In response, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) recently introduced legislation to reinstate the VOICE Office.

Given the many new victims being created by the Biden administration's reckless cutback on immigration enforcement, it's worth a look back at the political and media treatment of this important program.

Launched in April 2017, the VOICE Office served the needs of crime victims and their families who had been affected by crimes committed by individuals with a nexus to immigration. As was explained on the VOICE website at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the career officials managing the office have been:

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 Biden administration disagrees with this sentiment. One of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ first acts upon taking over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was to shutter the VOICE office, eliminating an important resource for victims of our nation’s porous border. Now more than ever, that office is needed due to the Biden administration’s reckless immigration policies that have turned every community in the nation into a “protected place” for criminal illegal aliens.

Victim-focused organizations were not contacted in advance of the administration’s decision to shutter the office. Instead, a handful of them received an e-mail announcing a replacement office, something called the Victims Engagement and Services Line (VESL). The new office (which is sometimes referred to as a program by the Biden administration, even though the name refers to a telephone line) is simply an amalgamation of a number of different, already existing services, including the Detention Reporting and Information Line (DRIL), which already has its own hotline; DHS’s Victim Information and Notification Exchange (DHS-VINE), which also already has its own website; and victim assistance support, which has long been provided by victim assistance specialists working within ICE who help a wide variety of victims, from aliens seeking U Visas to victims who called the VOICE office.

The Biden administration simply created a phone number that directs people to services that ICE already provides. No new services have been created. Support for victims of our porous border and lax immigration enforcement was ended, supportive language was erased from the website, and the apparent intended beneficiaries of the new phone line are foreign nationals. The priorities of the Biden administration seem to be to advance the interests of aliens and not the interests of U.S. residents victimized by illegal aliens.

The Biden administration characterized its termination of the VOICE office as a move meant to reach a greater audience, but this isn’t supported by the changes that have been made. In the press release announcing VESL, the administration explained that the replacement hotline “will serve as a more comprehensive and inclusive victim support system offered by ICE that will ensure services are offered to all victims regardless of immigration status of the victim or perpetrator.” This bit of misinformation was followed by quotes from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson:

“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,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “This administration is committed to providing a reliable source of information and guidance for all victims irrespective of their status.”


“As a federal law enforcement agency, ICE is committed to serving all victims of crime,” said Acting ICE Director Tae D. Johnson. “Through VESL, ICE is better positioned than ever to uphold this commitment. ICE has never and will never ask those seeking help about their immigration status and will provide these services without regard to a victim’s immigration status or the status of their perpetrator.”

The inference here is that the VOICE office was only accessible to U.S. citizens and that the social justice warriors in the Biden administration have corrected the injustice. Here’s the truth: The VOICE office did not ask about a victim’s immigration or citizenship status. The VOICE office helped all victims who called, which included immigrants and possibly even illegal aliens who had been victimized by foreign nationals. Mayorkas and Johnson created a strawman and used it to provide cover for their decision to strike a blow against victims and gut an office that was helping people.

The VOICE office was developed using existing resources and funds within ICE. It was the first time that the federal government provided a place that victims of crimes with a nexus to immigration could call for information. Through the VOICE hotline victims could receive perpetrators’ criminal or immigration history; assistance on how to receive automated custody status information about an alien in custody via DHS-VINE (which was initiated under the Obama administration but launched at the same time as VOICE in April 2017); local contacts to help with unique requests; and access to skilled social science professionals (the victim assistance specialists) who could refer victims to emotional support services. Every case is unique, often complicated due to the immigration law and enforcement aspect, and each requires a hands-on, detailed approach. Some victims sought information on how to file statements with courts, while others asked ICE to ensure that a removal does not upset a pending criminal case. No other part of the federal government is equipped to handle these issues, and VOICE filled a gap in the government’s response to victims.

The new VESL office does not acknowledge this need, and it’s unclear what resources a person victimized by our porous borders now has. A video created by ICE at VOICE’s launch, narrated by victims who understand the need for the office, is worth watching. The Biden administration scrubbed the video from apparently because it doesn't want this perspective to be heard.

A misinformation-filled article in Time magazine last year unintentionally indicates that Mayorkas never spent much time with the career professionals running the VOICE office. Here’s what was reported:

“The office name was a terrible misnomer,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told TIME in an interview on May 10. “The fact that it was shaped as it was in the prior Administration is something that we will not continue to have.”

As paraphrased by Time magazine, Mayorkas explained that his replacement office would “serve the functions of similar offices at other law-enforcement agencies, like the Justice Department’s Office of Victim Services and victim assistance units in U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country.”

Because Mayorkas seems to have gotten his information from activists, rather than career professionals, his reference to how the office was “shaped” is only a reflection of how political activists have mischaracterized the office. In fact, the VOICE office worked with the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) during the development phase to learn from best practices used by OVC staff. As previously noted, the VOICE office made use of victim assistance specialists at ICE. Had Mayorkas spent any time looking at VOICE’s mission, he would have discovered that the office was already offering support via ICE’s own victim assistance units. Of course, it’s entirely possible that he knew what he was doing and that his quotes to Time magazine were designed to create a phony narrative from the outset that could be used to justify shuttering the office and score political points with the anti-borders crowd while harming victims.

I’ve had many emotional conversations with people who have lost family members due to lax immigration enforcement, and I considered many of them good friends long before becoming a political appointee at ICE. While serving at ICE, I met many more good people who had been victimized by porous borders. The difficulties they faced are too numerous and too painful to put into words, but the career staff who ran the VOICE office — all of whom were hired prior to the Trump administration — did an excellent job providing much-needed services. The office was not political (though it was politicized by the media) and a lot of work went into ensuring that it operated in a thoughtful, professional manner that could be trusted by anyone seeking support from the federal government in a time of need.

The Time magazine article quoted above was a particularly egregious example of the media serving as a vehicle for spreading misinformation about the VOICE office, and warrants a detailed examination.

On two separate occasions, Time reporter Vera Bergengruen made it clear that she was very angry that this office existed. About a month before Mayorkas shuttered the office, Bergengruen let her readers know she was still bothered by the fact that the VOICE office was continuing to help victims, apparently upset that her 2018 hit piece in Buzzfeed had been largely ignored. In the Time magazine article, she wrote:

[I]t’s not clear what the Biden Administration has done thus far to adjust the work of an office whose collection of crime data and personal stories through a toll-free hotline was used as justification for Trump’s hard-line immigration policies. VOICE hotline staff are still taking calls, its website is still up, and ICE field offices continue to promote it on social media.

The office’s main function was to provide case information to victims. It didn’t serve as a means to collect “personal stories” or justify immigration enforcement. The office is unfortunately necessary because this nation for too long has not had a strong enough commitment to immigration enforcement.

What is clear is that Bergengruen cares little about victims and didn't bother to learn why the office is needed. She didn't sit down with victims to discuss how the office helped provide them services, or consider how information that was previously unavailable to victims could provide some solace and support.

On a personal note, I also should point out that she wrote, “Feere did not respond to a request for comment.” That is not accurate. Bergengruen sent an e-mail to my organization’s generic, public-facing e-mail address and received a response from my colleague who asked her to send along her questions, assuring her that I would respond. Bergengruen never followed up. If she really wanted a quote, she could have tried reaching my office via telephone; she could have reached out to me via social media. The fact that she didn't suggests she’s a political activist promoting a specific agenda, as anyone who reads the piece can see.

Reaching out to sources is not that hard. I recently reached out to Don Rosenberg, president of AVIAC, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of people who have lost loved ones at the hands of foreign nationals, for his thoughts on the VOICE Office. Here’s what he said:

An illegal alien killed my son in 2010. I only wish there had been a VOICE office to help me. The intricacies of the illegal immigration component and, quite frankly, the lack of cooperation from local District Attorneys, often law enforcement, and certainly politicians, demands a specialized group for support.

Why would the media be critical of the VOICE office? Few journalists are covering the issue, but lots of publicists.

If Bergengruen had wanted to understand the issue, her research would have led her to people like Rosenberg. He might have directed her to his website,, which documents the horrific difficulties the Rosenberg family went through trying to get information and support from the government. Had Bergengruen talked with other victims, she would have learned that this troubling experience is all too common when it involves cases with a nexus to immigration.

Bergengruen could have explained how the criminal justice system — which is what victims first encounter in a tragic case — runs almost entirely separately from the immigration justice system. Readers might have learned how local prosecutors have next to zero understanding or connection to federal immigration officials and often become entirely unhelpful to a victim trying to figure out the developments in their case. Victims are generally not aware that the alleged perpetrator is in the country illegally, and when the federal government processes a criminal alien for removal, state and local government employees in the criminal justice system will usually have no knowledge of that effort. Prior to the VOICE office, victims were often left wondering why the perpetrator had been transferred out of their county (or state), not aware that the person was being processed for deportation. With the VOICE office, victims had a resource that could provide information and support which, in turn, made ICE more aware of the impact of its operational decisions.

Instead of reaching out to people who could speak knowledgeably about the VOICE office, Bergengruen consulted a couple of immigration attorneys who had no connection to the office, a man who files Freedom of Information Act requests with the government, a former DHS spokesman who had little to do with the VOICE office, and a former ICE director who lasted less than six months in the position back in 2014 (and hasn’t been in the agency since). None of these people had any relevant background beyond sharing the reporter's view that Americans who have been harmed by lax immigration enforcement should be ignored. Bergengruen used the unsupported claims of these people to spread her own misinformation.

time magazine cover


This was not the first time the once-respected periodical peddled misinformation on immigration. A few years back, Time was caught lying about a cover it published that was designed to generate opposition to the Trump administration’s border policies. The doctored image was of a young, crying child looking up at a smiling President Trump, presented on a stark, red background; the Time logo in black, the words “Welcome to America” in white. The magazine claimed that the child was a “visible symbol” of a policy that “resulted in the separation of children and parents.” Readers were to assume that she had been separated from her parents as a result of Trump administration policies.

In reality, the young child was brought to the United States illegally by her previously deported mother despite protest from the girl’s father, who said, “I didn't support it. I asked her, why? Why would she want to put our little girl through that?” After being caught lying to the public, Time defended its phony cover but issued a correction that read, in part, “The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.” It’s all about the narrative.

Bergengruen wrote one line in her article that is accurate: “Some of the VOICE office’s tasks — providing victims of crime with additional information about the immigration status of perpetrators, setting up automatic custody status updates, and helping them understand immigration enforcement and deportation laws — are necessary, experts say.”

But she followed it with this nonsense: “At the same time, former DHS and ICE officials, immigration advocates and watchdog groups say those services to victims pale in comparison to the cynical political purposes that the office was created to serve: stoking fears about an alleged immigrant crime wave Trump based his presidential campaign on.”

The career professionals who managed the VOICE office and provided services on a daily basis worked very hard to ignore the efforts by detractors to politicize the office and cast it in a negative light. The only people spreading cynical political messages were people like Bergengruen and the political activists she chose to quote in her article. Nobody looked to the VOICE office as a source for “stoking fears” about immigrant crime; local crime reports sufficiently assist the public in observing the extent to which lax immigration enforcement is harming society.

It was Bergengruen who politicized an apolitical victims office; it was Bergengruen who worked to create drama where it didn't exist. And she did it on the backs of people who have suffered. It’s really disturbing and a perfect example of why the public distrusts the journalist class today.

Bergengruen also wrote the following bit of misinformation in an attempt to politicize the office:

Internal calendars and emails obtained by American Oversight through FOIA reveal how the Trump White House used the VOICE office to back up these narratives. They show frequent meetings between VOICE officials and ICE senior adviser Jon Feere, who worked with [Senior Advisor to President Trump Stephen] Miller to highlight, in Feere’s words, “potentially helpful storylines” that would be “critical if we’re to shape the narrative” linking immigrants to violent crime.

The suggestion here, that I was using the VOICE office for “helpful storylines” about violent crime, was a fabrication and Bergengruen knew it. That line — “potentially helpful storylines” — was from an e-mail completely unrelated to the VOICE office. She found that quote in an e-mail that was released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the staffer at American Oversight she spoke with. The e-mail contained a bullet-pointed list of a number of different things I was working on back in 2017. One of the bulleted items was focused on a terrorism investigation involving Bitcoin, and that’s where the quote comes from. It reads:

Tasked a field office to investigate the immigration history of a New York-based Pakistani-born USC recently charged with supporting ISIS via Bitcoins. As per the previous e-mail, better coordination between DHS Privacy and Comms is going to be critical if we’re to shape the narrative. I will always take the initiative in locating potentially helpful storylines, but I can't do Comms’s and Privacy’s jobs for them.

This had nothing to do with the VOICE office, as any honest person can see. It was more of a gripe about other offices missing a story on terrorism funding. But Bergengruen wanted to smear me, do harm to the VOICE office, and create the narrative that the office — and by extension, the victims — were being “used” by the Trump administration.

In another paragraph, Bergengruen quoted a professor who had no connection to the VOICE office and no understanding of what the office actually did, but who was apparently more than willing to help the reporter spread misinformation:

The VOICE office was an integral part of the effort to “trawl for anecdotes to then trumpet and publicize because there wasn’t good data to demonstrate that there’s a massive problem with non-citizen criminality,” says Elizabeth Cohen, an immigration expert and political science professor at Syracuse University.

In reality, the career professionals who ran the VOICE office were not operating it as a means to search for anecdotes, but rather as a public service to provide victims assistance that was previously unavailable. Some people who have lost loved ones were thankful that the VOICE office and the Trump administration afforded them an opportunity to tell their stories.

Bergengruen also got a quote from former ICE director John Sandweg, who ran the agency for less than six months back in 2014, long before the VOICE Office was established. Here’s the section where he was quoted:

The damage it caused is “going to take years to repair,” he tells TIME. “And I think it’s really unfair, when you’re looking at things like VOICE, to say that this was the agency’s doing, when quite frankly ... they were following the directives of the elected President of the United States.”

As for the future of VOICE, Sandweg thinks the office’s reputation is beyond repair. “They need to close that office out. It was a political gimmick,” says Sandweg. “Honestly, it’s a fake office designed for political purposes, like a lot of what Trump did with ICE.”

Sandweg apparently thinks that the victims who made use of this office are “fake”. I remember being in the office one Friday night around 9:30 pm alongside Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) leadership as they worked with a field office to ensure that a removable alien was not deported before we could clarify whether the local district attorney was going to press charges and/or seek to maintain custody of the alien. The case was complicated and evolving by the hour, but a young man had been killed and his grieving family was dealing with the manner in which the state had handled the case while quickly trying to figure out how the federal immigration system tied into everything. As a political appointee, I always expected to work late, but the career officers at ICE also routinely worked late and I remember being so impressed by the high level of professionalism and complete commitment to public safety exhibited by my colleagues in that moment. The grieving family was working through the VOICE office and it’s absolutely clear that the office allowed them to have better control over the situation.

To support her animus for VOICE, Bergengruen assured readers (without offering sources) that “research studies show that undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit violent crime than native-born U.S. citizens.” But as people who have been victimized by criminal aliens have expressed to me on many occasions, that claim is pointless even if true. As one father said, “What difference does this make to a parent who’s child was just killed by an illegal alien? ‘But, sir, undocumented people commit crimes at a low rate.’ What the hell do I care about crime rates? Is that supposed to make me feel better? My kid is dead because we’re not enforcing our immigration laws.”

For those interested in crimes committed by foreign nationals, ICE’s annual ERO Enforcement Reports contain a number of interesting tables (see here, here, here, and here). They’ve been published at the end of every fiscal year for at least the last decade with the exception of last year. Secretary Mayorkas directed ICE to not publish the report, apparently worrying that the dangerous fallout of his non-enforcement policies would be too obvious. Sources within ICE grew tired of the Biden administration’s lack of transparency and recently leaked enforcement data to the Washington Times. It showed that only about 74,082 illegal aliens were arrested by ICE in FY 2021, compared to 103,603 in FY 2020 and 143,099 in FY 2019. Not only that, the number of convicted criminals arrested under Mayorkas’s watch was almost half what it was the year before, dropping from 70,607 convicted criminals arrested in FY 2020 to only 36,619 convicted criminals arrested in FY 2021 (of which about four months were under the Trump administration). Meanwhile, dangerous criminal aliens are being allowed to roam freely in American towns at the Biden administration’s direction, which made nearly every location in every community a “protected place” for criminal illegal aliens.

The Biden administration’s reckless immigration enforcement scheme is, unfortunately, guaranteed to create victims. The VOICE office is more needed than ever.