The VOICE hotline has been busy since its Wednesday opening, but not for reasons administrators want.
Candidates called immigrants all sorts of names over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign season, the most egregious of which was probably “rapists,” which Donald Trump uttered when he kicked off his campaign in June 2015.
And now, it appears that some Americans have begun to take advantage of the dramatic if not inhuman terms given to these populations — and more broadly, the Trump administration’s obsession with “illegal” immigration — to troll the Department of Homeland Security.
On Thursday, the BBC reported that Twitter users had started a campaign to prank call the offices of VOICE, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security meant to “serve the needs of crime victims and their families who have been impacted by crimes committed by removable criminal aliens.”
A signature piece of VOICE, which Trump authorized via a January executive order and which opened on Wednesday, is the hotline it makes available for the aforementioned victims.
On Twitter, users encouraged others to report “alien encounters” to VOICE immediately, but probably not the kind of aliens that VOICE had in mind.
As Stephen Tatton tweeted, “Just called in an alien attack from Planet Voltron.”
Meanwhile, “Carlos in California” tweeted that the criminal alien he sighted appeared to be in poor health. “Called Trump’s ‘VOICE’ hotline for people to report ‘illegal aliens’,” he wrote. “I reported seeing a bloated orange humanoid.”
According to Buzzfeed News, enough people actually acted on invitations like these to impact the affairs of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, whose representative was not too pleased about the onslaught of trolling.
“There are certainly more constructive ways to make one’s opinions heard than to prevent legitimate victims of crime from receiving the information and resources they seek because the lines are tied up by hoax callers,” a spokesperson told Buzzfeed News.
Critics of the VOICE program have said that its existence rests on dubious claims about the incidence of first generation immigrant crime — which various studies have corroborated — and that it serves only to promulgate fear.
“The establishment of this office sends a message that the Trump Administration is fixated on continuing to stir fear of immigrants while spreading myths about undocumented immigrants and crime,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “Looking at the facts, it is clear that there is no epidemic of immigrant crime that the President all too often asserts.”
Others have deemed VOICE an instrument of racism, one that serves to further equate people of color with crime.
“It is blatantly racist and a dangerous new tool for extremists and white supremacists,” Salvador Sarmiento, National Campaign Coordinator for the advocacy group National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) said. “Trump’s weapon is fear. Trump wants white people to fear anyone who is not white. And he wants all of us to fear him and his administration.”
But for some, the worst element of VOICE is not that it demarcates a new technology of racism, but that it carries on the legacy of xenophobic propaganda, bureaucracy, and legislation that appeared in some of the darkest moments of the 20th century.
“Throughout history, we have seen the sentiment behind VOICE tap into an unjustified fear of immigrants and people treated as non-citizens due to race and religion,” Color Lines, a racial justice-oriented news site, wrote.
“In France, French Algerians were stereotyped as thieves, thugs and pariahs, especially during the French-Algerian War. And in America, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909 helped to cast Chinese immigrants as immoral heathens invading the country,” the site added.
And finally, “We saw this in Nazi Germany where propaganda promoting tales of Jewish criminals were plastered across the country.”
Next, learn about the potentially surprising adversaries of Trump’s border wall.