US victims of crimes by undocumented migrants to get extra support

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Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly speaks during the opening of the new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly speaks during the opening of the new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office (AFP Photo/ALEX WONG)

Washington (AFP) - US victims of crimes committed by undocumented migrants will receive dedicated support services, the Trump administration said Wednesday as it spotlights their suffering to press a sweeping immigration crackdown.

Meeting President Donald Trump's order for more support to individuals and families hurt by crimes carried out by immigrants living illegally in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office.

VOICE will help victims follow the status of the alleged perpetrator, which can be unclear as justice and immigration authorities often process the cases differently from those of citizen criminals.

VOICE will also provide direction on obtaining legal and other services.

"We are giving people who are victimized by illegal aliens for the first time a voice of their own," said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

"All crime is terrible, but these victims as represented here are unique. They are all too often ignored. They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place, because the people who victimized them should never have been here in our country."

VOICE builds on existing government support services for crime victims, retraining and reallocating staff to provide special help to victims of perpetrators who are in the United States illegally.

Trump has repeatedly highlighted the issue of crime by undocumented migrants, like gang violence and drugs, to justify his call for a wall on the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) US-Mexico border and the expulsion of many of the estimated 11.3 million people living in the country illegally.

Kelly singled out the case of Billy and Kathy Inman, whose son was killed in 2000 when their car was hit by a vehicle whose driver was in the country illegally.

He noted that they found it extremely difficult to find out what happened to the person who hit them.

"These victims deserve more than a letter. They deserve a voice," said Kelly.

DHS officials stressed that the new service was not for reporting undocumented migrants or crimes, and not to be used against people in the country illegally who are not criminals.

"We are not saying that everyone who is here illegally is a criminal," stressed DHS spokesman David Lapan.

Lapan said it was impossible to place a figure on how many people were eligible to take advantage of VOICE. A number of studies suggest that immigrants as a whole -- whether in the country legally or illegally -- commit less crime than native-born Americans.