The VOICE Office’s termination by the Biden administration is welcome news. The Verge reported in 2018 that in response to its creation by the previous administration, outraged members of the public flooded the office with prank calls reporting crimes committed by space aliens, bringing the line to “a standstill.” Thousands of callers in the office’s first days left “operators unable to answer more than 98 percent of incoming calls during the protest as the media relations team attempted to contain the narrative,” the report said.
But what does raise a possible red flag is what officials plan to put in place of the VOICE Office. “VOICE will be replaced by The Victims Engagement and Services Line, which will combine longstanding existing services, such as methods for people to report abuse and mistreatment in immigration detention centers and a notification system for lawyers and others with a vested interest in immigration cases,” the AP reported.
While mechanisms to hold government offices accountable are necessary, there shouldn’t be any shock at the idea that replacing one ICE office with another ICE office might spark some side-eye, even if its purported goal is to report abuses. Immigrant rights advocates have already been exposing ICE’s abuses for years, including a civil rights complaint filed just last month. Now we’re supposed to believe that ICE will take complaints submitted to ICE about ICE seriously? Especially considering that Tae Johnson, the previous administration’s acting ICE director, is still in that position? I’m skeptical to say the least, folks.
Rather than building onto ICE (including continuing to seek to send billions the agency’s way), the Biden administration should listen to advocates urging the closure of abusive and inhumane detention facilities. “The Biden administration was elected with a mandate to fix our broken immigration system, and immigrant detention is an early test of its resolve,” American Civil Liberties Union senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah said in April. “Closing detention sites should be an easy decision.”
The Biden administration said last month it would be shutting down two detention sites currently under federal investigation, including the Georgia facility where immigrant women abused by a gynecologist were detained. But then earlier this month, The Intercept reported that officials have continued to transfer dozens of people to Irwin County Detention Center. What good is a hotline for the public to report abuses when ICE is continuing its shenanigans in spite of government promises?
“It is beyond disappointing that nearly two weeks since the directive to close Irwin as soon as possible, ICE continues to confine immigrants at Irwin and other horrific facilities across the country,” Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Diego Sánchez told The Intercept. “Enough is enough.”