When President Trump announced a new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office and hotline in last year's joint address to Congress, he said he would be "providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests." Almost a year later, VOICE, run by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has improperly released private and legally protected information about people who call into the hotline and the people they are calling about, potentially undermining the trust of crime victims. Callers are additionally improperly treating the hotline as a crime tip line, The Arizona Republic reports.
Last year, ICE posted summaries of call logs on its website that included names, addresses, and phone numbers of crime victims and immigrants accused of being in the U.S. illegally or crimes, plus identification numbers and employers of the immigrants. The Arizona Republic said that for its part, it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for "any and all criminal activity" called in to the VOICE line in July, received a spreadsheet with 643 callers on Sept. 8, then got a "clawback response" letter on Oct. 4 saying the September release inadvertently contained "personally identifiable information of third parties, law enforcement sensitive information, and potentially deliberative information."
The Republic illustrated the problems with the case of Elena Maria Lopez, who called the VOICE hotline to improperly report that her Dutch ex-husband had married her for a green card and then threatened her; was told that there was nothing VOICE could do; then received a call informing her that the information she had provided in confidence was released to the newspaper. "The same agency that claimed it had to protect my ex-husband's rights just destroyed my privacy and my safety," Lopez told the Republic. David Bier, an immigration analyst at the Cato Institute, called this a predictably "serious problem" that has undermined trust in the government on immigration issues. Peter Weber
Immigration officials target 100 7-Eleven stores in what top official calls 'harbinger of what's to come'
Immigration officials targeted approximately 100 7-Eleven stores early Wednesday morning, opening up employment audits and interviewing employees in what Derek Benner, the deputy executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations, told The Associated Press is a "harbinger of what's to come."
Wednesday's operation represents a new step in an investigation that was first opened in 2013, when a handful of 7-Eleven managers were found to have used stolen identities to employ more than 100 people illegally and pay them below minimum wage. The 7-Elevens targeted Wednesday will be required to prove that work authorizations were required during their hiring processes.
AP called the early morning operation a "new front in [President] Trump's sharp expansion of immigration enforcement." Benner confirmed as much, saying: "You're going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters."
An official who spoke to The Daily Beast in November said that the operations will specifically target employers who might be exploiting undocumented workers. "These people are basically being used as slave labor," the official said. Tom Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has said both the employers and the employees will be targeted: "We'll go after the employer who knowingly hires an illegal alien ... but we're always going to arrest a person who is here illegally," he said. Jeva Lange
At least two Motel 6 locations in Phoenix, Arizona, appear to be regularly sending guest lists to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, resulting in at least 20 arrests of undocumented immigrants at the hotel chain between February and August of this year, the Phoenix New Times reports.
The arrests stem from what ICE officers call "knock and talks," meaning officers show up at a hotel door without a warrant, ostensibly following a "lead," and ask permission to enter. "It's not some big conspiracy," ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe told the New Times. "If they're given consent, then they can come in. If they're not, then they can come back with a search warrant."
But employees at Motel 6s offered a different version of events:
Unofficially … employees at both locations said it was standard practice to share guest information with ICE.
"We send a report every morning to ICE — all the names of everybody that comes in," one front-desk clerk explained. "Every morning at about 5 o'clock, we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE." [Phoenix New Times]
"I don't know how it works, but if you check in and you have a warrant, you're going to get picked up," another Motel 6 employee told New Times. Immigration attorney Denise Aguilar wrote that some of her clients "have heard (no telling how valid the info is) that ICE is paying $200 per person for the front-desk clerk to report."
O'Keefe said she couldn't divulge how the immigrants were being discovered at the hotels. "I wouldn't be able to confirm how we are getting our information," she said. "Those are investigative techniques that we wouldn't be able to talk about." Read the full report here.
Update Sept. 14: Motel 6 issued a corporate statement following the Phoenix New Times report, writing: "[T]his was implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it last week, it was discontinued. We are currently investigating and will provide more information shortly." Jeva Lange
After at least 51 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Austin and San Antonio last Thursday and Friday, part of a broad and controversial raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in at least six states, some students in Austin started staying home from school out of fear of what could happen to them or their families. A local teachers' organization, Education Austin, started providing its members with information for students on immigration lawyers and what to do if ICE agents question them or come to their doors. But on Tuesday, the Austin Independent School District told teachers and other public school employees to stop it.
Teachers, school administrators, and staff "may not speak to political affiliation, views, protests, advocacy, or other controversial issues or topics that may arise while on district property," said a memo sent around from the Austin ISD legal counsel, warning that state legislators are watching. "Austin ISD is unique in that it is the district of the Texas capital and is known for being politically and socially active; therefore its activities, statements, and reactions are immensely scrutinized," the memo cautioned. "This increased oversight that is not experienced by all school districts emphasizes the need and importance for district employees to be meticulous and very calculated in their actions and responses to controversial events."
The Austin School Board was not informed about the memo beforehand, according to board vice president Paul Saldana, and it's not pleased. The memo is "in a direct contradiction to what I thought we were committed to as a district," he told local NPR station KUT. "I'm quite taken back and very surprised with the conservative tone of the memorandum." Education Austin also objected and said it will seek its own legal opinion. Letting students know their legal rights "is not political, it is not agitational, it is informational," said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. "Families need to know where to turn, what they can do because most don't know. It's a learning opportunity. We're schools. Let's teach." You can learn more in the report from local NBC station KXAN below. Peter Weber