While the United States has benefited from a decades-long downward trend in violent crime rates, it is not difficult to find victims. There were still about 1.2 million violent crimes reported in 2015, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, which means the perpetrators came in all sorts of shapes and sizes — male, female, young, old, white or minority, urban or rural, left-handed and ambidextrous. The vast majority of these crimes was committed by people who were born and raised in the United States, and a much smaller percentage was committed by non-citizens, an even tinier fraction by those who are undocumented.
Yet President Donald Trump in his Tuesday night speech to Congress — an address that won raves in some quarters by simply being relatively restrained and, dare we say, more "polite" than has been his custom — announced the creation of a new office within the Department of Homeland Security to serve victims of crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. His goal? To give "voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests." It even has an acronym: Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement or VOICE, get it?
We have long supported crime victim assistance programs. The idea of compensating victims and survivors, of helping them navigate the criminal justice system and instructing them of their rights and generally advocating for their interests, has gained traction since the early 1970s. They are now as much a part of prosecutors' offices as investigators and lawyers. But we know of no such program that is defined by some random characteristic of the criminal. Victims are victims, deserving such support whether the person who injured them is of a different race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or, yes, whether they are from another country and overstayed their visa.
Trotting out victims of crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants, as President Trump is fond of doing, is a sure way to tug at the heart strings of an audience predisposed to be hostile toward foreigners, but it doesn't change reality. Americans have less to fear from undocumented immigrants than they do from their legal neighbors. At least that's what multiple studies have found. And a simple analysis of Census data shows that incarceration rates among men aged 18 to 49 born outside the United States is lower than those born here (and that's not even factoring in documentation). Why must we insist that victims of crimes perpetrated by the undocumented are more victimized than victims of crimes perpetrated by natives?
Ah, perhaps it's Mr. Trump's argument that the news media has ignored these particular victims. Have they? Kate Steinle was killed in 2015 in San Francisco, allegedly by an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had been deported five times. Search her name on Google, and you get 165,000 hits including references to "Kate's Law," an effort to increase the criminal penalties for people who re-enter this country after deportation. To provide perspective, Arnesha Bowers, a 16-year-old City College student, was murdered two weeks before Steinle in a gruesome and heart-wrenching crime. Her name produces about 5,000 hits.
To all the pundits who lauded Mr. Trump for his "civil" speech before Congress, we say you should take a second listen. What we heard was much of the same old thing: an effort to demonize undocumented immigrants by suggesting, falsely, that they pose a greater danger to everyone's well-being than people who happen to be born in this country. Setting up a "VOICE" office in DHS is not some act of compassion or even public safety but one of exploitation and xenophobia, a despicable desire to rally Americans in hatred and anger against a minority group — usually Latino immigrants. And it follows Mr. Trump's trail of falsehoods on this subject, from his promise to round up between 2 and 3 million immigrants with criminal records (who don't actually exist in anywhere near such abundance) to his claim that Mexico will pay for a wall (it won't, even if it means losing U.S. aid, much of which, incidentally, goes to fighting the drug cartels). Whatever new level of compassion President Trump has recently discovered in himself, it obviously doesn't extend to women and children fleeing gang violence in Central America or the other honest and hardworking souls who seek a better life and whose presence would benefit this country — if we had a leader willing to forge a legal pathway for them.