Senate Democrats want immigration enforcement policy clarified

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are asking the Trump administration to clarify its policies regarding undocumented immigrants who are victim of domestic violence, human trafficking and other crimes.

The lawmakers urged John Boozman, R-Ark., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, and the ranking Demoratic member, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to pressure the administration to clarify policies before additional funds are approved.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said that following President Donald Trump’s executive order on Feb. 20 to step up interior enforcement of immigration laws, prosecutors and police chiefs have reported a steep decline in victims reporting domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Cortez Masto was one of six lawmakers who signed a letter saying immigration enforcement actions “have a chilling effect on the reporting by victims and witnesses of crime, which reduces the overall community safety.”

Trump has touted the success of enforcement efforts to reduce illegal immigration and a crackdown on crime committed by undocumented immigrants in the United States.

In April, the Department of Homeland Security created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office to assist victims of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. The program is under Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique — and too often ignored,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly.

Under the VOICE program, “ICE will not inquire as to a victim’s immigration status,” according to the website.

An ICE spokeswoman pointed to the program’s website in answering a question about services.

Kelly, in his announcement, said the program was designed to “provide immediate services to victims.” VOICE was created as part of the president’s executive order in February.

Still, advocates for victims of domestic abuse say the new program does not specify assistance and the crackdown on illegal immigration keeps victims from reporting crime.

The federal crackdown is keeping victims of domestic and sexual violence from seeking help, said Kristy Oriol, policy coordinator of the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“Programs in Nevada continue to serve all victims of domestic and sexual violence, regardless of their immigration status, but we must not create a climate where these victims are fearful to access the services they need and deserve,” Oriol said.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

There are roughly 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Nevada, which makes up about 7 percent of the population, the Pew Research Center estimates.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or Follow @garymartin on Twitter.

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