"ICE’s Victim Assistance Program puts victims’ needs first"

Hi Gang:
I received an e-mail from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) yesterday, April 28th that focused on a program that is never discussed in the news media by any news organization- the Victim Assistance Program (VAP).  The information contained in the e-mail and in material I found by searching the web for additional documents relating to VAP should dispel any and all allegations that politicians and disingenuous police chiefs make about how having police officers working in close cooperation with ICE would do harm to community policing.
For some illegal aliens the best thing that can happen to them is to taken into custody by ICE so that they can be provided with ample opportunities to acquire temporary or even permanent lawful status in our country!  Check out the VAP that has served as the predication for my commentary today.  How does this harm community policing- an assertion that is often made by those who simply do not care about the issue of the security of our nation’s extremely porous borders or the failure to create an immigration system that has the slimmest shreds of integrity?
Let me start out by saying that I am certainly sympathetic to the plight of those, including illegal aliens, who fall victim to crime.  The greatest motivation most law enforcement officers have when they go on duty is to attempt to get those off the street who may do serious harm to others.  This was certainly a major goal for me- especially during the many years I worked with other law enforcement agencies to investigate and arrest aliens engaged in criminal activities.
I have some serious misgivings, however, about the approach that ICE is taking with regards to aliens they deem to be “victims of human trafficking” and other crimes. 
To provide you with a brief background, I was part of the first Anti Smuggling Unit for the INS in New York in the late 1970’s.  The smuggling of illegal aliens into our country was referred to as “Alien Smuggling.”  This simple and succinct two word description was as accurate as it was short.  Aliens who paid smugglers or “coyotes” to facilitate their entry into the United States were referred to as “Alien Smugglers” and the aliens they smuggled were referred to as “Illegal Aliens.” 
With the brevity of the terminology came clarity.  Of course the INS, under the “leadership” of then President Jimmy Carter who, as I recall, waited an entire year to select a commissioner for the INS and then demanded that illegal aliens be given a new title, “Undocumented Aliens.”  Employees of the INS were threatened with severe disciplinary punishment if we continued to refer to illegal aliens as being illegal aliens!  Within a couple of months the edict changed.  We were told to henceforth refer to “Undocumented Aliens” as Undocumented Workers!”  I was so angered I came to refer to such individuals as “Pre-Citizens!”  Many of my colleagues quickly followed suit and, in fact, not long after I came up with this new and clearly unofficial terminology, I answered a phone call from a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Mexican border.  He asked that I review a file on an individual he had just arrested- it gave me quite a chuckle when he referred to the guy he had just arrested as being a “Pre-Citizen!”
In any event, the crime of smuggling aliens into our country continued to be referred to as “Alien Smuggling.”  A number of years ago, however, the nomenclature to describe alien smuggling changed and morphed into the crime of “Human Trafficking!”  
The terminology is extremely important.  An alien who is kidnapped and brought across our borders without their consent does, indeed involve a victim.  The alien who might be brought to the United States against his (her) will is clearly a victim.  However, an alien who seeks out the services of an alien smuggler and pays that smuggler for assistance in running our border and evading the Border Patrol is, in fact, entitled to another descriptive term- that of “Co-conspirator!”
Certainly alien smugglers are among the most pernicious criminals you are likely to encounter.  Many of them are now linked to the drug cartels and will often rape the women they smuggle into the United States.  They are known to hold smuggled aliens as hostages until family members can pay their fees.  There have been documented cases where smugglers engage in shootouts with their rivals to take control over a group of smuggled aliens in order to get the money that the aliens were to pay the smuggler.  It seems that where aliens smugglers are concerned, the rules are- there are no rules!
However, aliens who seek the assistance of smugglers are committing criminal violations- yet these aliens have now morphed into “victims!”
Before we go further I do want to provide a bit of clarity to make certain that I am not misunderstood or misquoted- when smuggled aliens are attacked and fall victim to the crimes committed by the smugglers, then it is vital that the smugglers be arrested and brought to justice.  The smuggled aliens who suffered violence at the hands of the smugglers should be provided with incentives to provide testimony and other evidence in order to enable the investigation of smugglers to proceed and ultimately lead to a successful outcome- in fact I provided testimony on May 18, 2004 at a hearing that focused on these cases.  In fact, it was then Minority Member Sheila Jackson Lee who requested my appearance before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.  The title of that hearing was: 

Here is a link to the transcript of that hearing:


My concern is that by seeking to declare smuggled aliens are victims we are encouraging many illegal aliens to run our nation’s borders.  I have provided you with two documents that have been prepared by ICE.  The first document is the content of the e-mail I received yesterday while the document beneath that appears on the web and was posted last year.  Please check out the list of benefits that are to be accorded to smuggled aliens once they declare themselves to be “Victims of Human Trafficking.”

Furthermore, it is important to understand that the e-mail I received yesterday discusses how ICE has now created a division that has nothing to do with the enforcement side of the process and, in fact, the Victim Assistance Program currently employs 18 federal employees who are described in the document in this excerpt:


“We are the non-gun, non-badge carrying personnel who are dedicated to victims’ rights and services,” said Marie Martinez, section chief for the Victim Assistance Program.

The program’s 18 victim assistance specialists are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have experience in social work, child welfare, human rights, and counseling; and their primary goals are to ensure that crime victims’ rights are protected, that they receive immigration relief when necessary, and that they have access to services. ICE victim assistance coordinators assist victims encountered in any ICE investigation, from human trafficking and child exploitation to human rights abuse and white collar crime. But, Martinez notes, “The lion’s share of our time is spent assisting victims of human trafficking and child exploitation.”

The document notes that previously special agents had handled the issue of the treatment of aliens who were encountered but now the agents are apparently to be kept from these aliens.
I can tell you that I encountered many aliens who were caught up in all sorts of terrible situations.  By having agents working with these people it was likely that the aliens would cooperate with the agents and it provided the agents with a wonderful opportunity to deal with the issue of looking out for the well being of those who ultimately became witnesses and cooperators- a vital issue for investigations to go forward.  Reading the e-mail today, I came away with the sense that ICE sees anyone who is charged with enforcement to be the adversaries! 
Here are the questions I would want to ask those who have created the Victim Assistance Program and other members of the administration about this program.
1.  What efforts are made to determine if aliens are making fraudulent claims to being victims?  Additionally, what standard must be met in order for an illegal alien to qualify for the services offered by the Victim Assistance Program?  (My concern is two-fold- that aliens may apply for this program when, in fact, they are not victims- fraud is a pervasive problem within the entire immigration benefits program and I am also concerned that an illegal alien may make false allegations about employers to qualify for inclusion in this program that would have to be extremely attractive to illegal aliens.  There is, I believe, a potential for illegal aliens to make false accusations against employers who have no idea that they hired an illegal alien.)
2.  How are the “victim assistance specialists” hired?  What is their specific job descriptions and what are the critical elements of their jobs?  How are they trained?
3.  Are members of so-called “advocacy organizations” among the ranks of these employees?  It is clear that many organizations such as La Raza are opposed to the removal (deportation) of illegal aliens- is any thought being given to the potential for conflict of interest where this program is concerned.
4.  Do the victim assistance specialists work in close cooperation with the enforcement personnel or do they wind up shielding the aliens that they “assist” from effort to enforce their ultimate removal from the United States when it is clear that they are no longer able to assist with ongoing investigations or prosecutions?  Are any efforts made by special agents to substantiate allegations about mistreatment of illegal aliens at the hands of employers?  (Let me make this clear- I absolutely abhor employers who intentionally hire illegal aliens and absolutely favor hammering unscrupulous employers who abuse and exploit vulnerable illegal aliens!  However, I also know that people will make false accusations in order to improve their own position.  This is how informants are enticed into coming forward to provide testimony and evidence against people who may have been their “partners in crime.”  Law enforcement officers always need to be aware of the potential for informants to lie.  
(I can tell you about informants who were motivated to stay out of jail and also to eliminate their competitors.  I could provide you with many examples of how people will lie about anything and everything in order to improve their situation.  I recall one young lady, who was caught with a significant quantity of narcotics, when I was assigned to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.  She readily agreed to become a cooperator in order to seek a reduction in her ultimate prison sentence- cooperators can have many years taken off their sentence if they cooperate with law enforcement.  All was going well until, to the surprise of my colleagues and me, that she is unexpectedly overheard on the wiretap of another drug trafficker, cutting a drug deal!  The people she was providing information about were competing with the drug trafficking organization she had decided to work with!  She was totally surprised when we took her into custody and informed that not only would she have to face the maximum sentence from the first case she was involved with, but that she would now face additional criminal charges!)
I have seen this sort of situation in employer sanction investigations as well, therefore it is extremely important that any benefits that are provided to aliens be substantiated.  This has been a major issue throughout the immigration benefits program.
5.  In conjunction with my concerns about the potential for abuse of this program and aliens lying about material facts concerning how they came to be “victims” I would like to know how many such aliens have ever been determined to have provided false statements in order to qualify for this program.  If any aliens have been determined to have lied, how many have been subsequently prosecuted for committing fraud?  How many have been removed from the program for lying about material facts?
6.  Procedurally, are these illegal alien victims processed as illegal aliens and served with documents (Notices to Appear) that would render them removable (deportable) as a means of making certain that if any of them subsequently abscond that they can be immediately taken into custody?  Whenever we cultivated informants we wanted to have final orders of removal (deportation) on file for them so that if they failed to show up when they needed to we could immediately seek to take them into custody if they failed to cooperate as per our agreement with them- certainly this should be the case here.  (Aliens who ultimately qualify for visas would have these orders of removal vacated, by while everything is pending it is important that when a cooperating illegal alien fails to cooperate that they can immediately be taken into custody.)
7.  How difficult is it for special agents of ICE or other law enforcement agencies to interview aliens who have been placed into the Victim Assistance Program?  
8.  How many aliens are currently enrolled in this program?
9.  What efforts are required by the Victims Assistance Specialists to fully identify the aliens they interact with and determine if they are the subject of arrest warrants by any law enforcement agency?  Are the aliens who are admitted into this program fingerprinted and photographed and are these fingerprints and photographs provided to ICE or other law enforcement agencies as a matter of routine?  As a followup- how often have aliens in this program been determined to have outstanding warrants or appear on terror watch lists?
10. How much money is being spent on the various aspects of the Victim Assistance Program?
I could come up with more questions but I think by now you understand my concerns about how this program is being managed and how it may provide still more incentives for even more illegal aliens to run our nation’s borders and perhaps commit more crimes along the way.
I have noted in many of my previous commentaries how ICE press releases my tout the arrest of alien smugglers or take action against others who facilitate the illegal activities of aliens whose presence in our country represents a violation of law but yet there is almost never any mention of efforts being made to identify, locate and arrest the illegal aliens who may have availed themselves of the services of the alien smugglers.  My concern is that if the Victim Assistance Program is not carefully monitored that it may actually not only entice additional illegal aliens to enter our country in violation of law but that it could lead to corruption of those who work on this program.  Certainly there must be a high level of accountability and integrity with this program.  However, given the abysmal track record where the immigration benefits program is concerned- I fear that this program will simply create a de-facto amnesty program for illegal aliens.  
We have seen documented cases where terrorists have been granted political asylum and even where they had been naturalized- my concerns about the lack of integrity in the immigration benefits program is not without cause! 

The securing of our nation’s borders and the effective enforcement and administration of our nation’s immigration laws are, arguably, among the most important of all missions that are supposed to be carried out by our federal government.  

Nothing less than the security of our nation and safety of our citizens hang in the balance!
A country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls!


our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!

We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.  
My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.
The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.
If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same.  We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

The practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

The large scale apathy demonstrated by citizens of this nation has emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups. There is much that we cannot do but there is one thing that We the People absolutely must do- we must stop sitting on the sidelines!

The collective failure of We the People to get involved in make our concerns known to our politicians have nearly made the concerns of the great majority of the citizens of this nation all but irrelevant to the politicians.  
I believe our nation’s is greatly benefited by the rich diversity of our people which is why I could never imagine living anywhere except New York City, arguably the most diverse city in our nation if not, in fact, the world.  However, my idea of diversity most certainly does not include members of MS-13, the Mexican drug cartels or members of other transnational gangs or members of al-Qaeda!

If this situation concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation! 

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

-michael cutler- 

Please check out my website:


ICE’s Victim Assistance Program puts victims’ needs first

The phone rings at 1:32 a.m. At that hour, the news can’t be good. The agent on the line received a referral from a local law enforcement partner who encountered an abused and exploited individual, potentially someone who has been trafficked for sex or labor. Luckily, a victim assistance specialist from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Victim Assistance Program is there to offer assistance.

“We are the non-gun, non-badge carrying personnel who are dedicated to victims’ rights and services,” said Marie Martinez, section chief for the Victim Assistance Program.

The program’s 18 victim assistance specialists are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have experience in social work, child welfare, human rights, and counseling; and their primary goals are to ensure that crime victims’ rights are protected, that they receive immigration relief when necessary, and that they have access to services. ICE victim assistance coordinators assist victims encountered in any ICE investigation, from human trafficking and child exploitation to human rights abuse and white collar crime. But, Martinez notes, “The lion’s share of our time is spent assisting victims of human trafficking and child exploitation.”

Crime victims – especially those of human trafficking who may be in the United States illegally – often don’t realize they have rights. These individuals are scared and alone – marginalized from society. More often than not, they have experienced traumatic situations that may have long-lasting psychological effects.

Prior to the creation of the Victim Assistance Program and the hiring of full-time subject matter experts in victim assistance, special agents were responsible for all aspects of human trafficking cases, including victim care and coordination. Accessing timely and comprehensive services for victims often proved difficult due to the time-intensive demands of the investigation and the challenges in navigating social services systems and obtaining immigration relief.

“A stable victim is a much better witness,” said special agent Ed Kelly. “[The program] creates an atmosphere where it’s not such a jar when law enforcement comes back into the victim’s life to rehash the whole incident.”

By doing so, the program creates better outcomes not only for the affected individuals, but for the criminal justice system as a whole.

If there’s one thing that a victim of a crime should understand, it is that, “first and foremost, we are concerned about their safety and needs. We view them as partners in the criminal justice process, and they are much better equipped to participate actively and fully when they’ve been treated with respect and care,” said Martinez.

Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents investigate a variety of federal crimes, including human trafficking. This information will help you understand your rights under federal law as a victim of human trafficking in the United States as well as assistance that is available to you throughout the investigation and beyond. If you have questions at any time, we encourage you to contact your ICE case agent or the ICE Victim Assistance Coordinator.

The Crime of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
Human trafficking victims are found in all legitimate and illegitimate labor sectors, including sweat shops, agricultural fields, restaurants, hotels, shanghai massage parlors, and domestic service. If you have been forced or deceived into working against your will and are unable or afraid to leave employment, you may be a victim of trafficking.
If you are under 18 and engaged in prostitution, you are a victim of trafficking under U.S. law.
Violence is often present in human trafficking situations, but exploitation can occur without physical violence and traffickers often use subtle methods of coercion to induce fear and exert power over their victims.

How to Know If You Are a Victim

If you have experienced one or more of the following situations you may be a victim of trafficking.
  • When I came to the United States I was told I would provide childcare and would work five days a week for an agreed upon wage. Instead, I have been tricked or forced to work in some other job and am paid very little, if anything.
  • My employer took my identification and travel documents when I got to the U.S. I am not allowed to keep them myself and have not seen them since I arrived.
  • My employer told me that if I left his employment, he would use his connections to hurt my family members back home.
  • I work really long hours in very poor working and living conditions. I have been threatened with jail or deportation if I stop working.
  • Someone where I live and work is always watching my every move. My contact with the outside world is very restricted.
  • I’ve witnessed other people try to escape and get beaten or threatened. My employer uses these people as an “example” of what will happen to others if we try to leave.
Even if you knowingly entered the country illegally, you could be a trafficking victim if you were forced or coerced into working against your will.
ICE’s primary concern is victim safety and ensuring that victims of human trafficking are not victimized again. ICE can connect victims to other organizations that can provide long-term assistance and support.

Victims’ Legal Rights in the U.S.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is a federal law that guarantees certain legal benefits and services to victims who are in the United States because they were trafficked. The law provides several options for immigration relief that to be explored with the help of an attorney. If you do not yet have legal representation, ICE can help refer you to a non-profit organization that specializes in immigration issues.
Once ICE or another federal law enforcement agency has determined that an individual is a victim of trafficking, he or she will become eligible for Continued Presence (CP). CP is a temporary status that allows you to remain in the U.S. for one year (renewable if necessary) during the ongoing investigation or prosecution of the trafficker. Once you obtain CP you can also get a work authorization.
A T Visa is a four year non-immigrant status that enables victims to stay in the U.S. and assist federal and/or state authorities in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases. For those older than 18, in order to receive a T Visa a victim must be complying with reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement unless unable to cooperate due to physical or psychological trauma. A T Visa recipient must be likely to suffer extreme hardship upon removal from the U.S. Receipt of a T Visa also enables recipients to bring certain family members to the U.S.
There are other forms of immigration relief that may be applicable depending on your unique circumstances. We encourage you to explore all options with an immigration attorney.

Other Forms of Victim Assistance

Freedom is only the first step to rebuilding your life and restoring your well-being.
There are many types of assistance available at no cost, including:
  • housing

  • food and other basic needs

  • medical care

  • mental health services and counseling

  • case management

  • legal assistance

  • transportation

  • translation and interpretation

  • English language classes

  • job skills training
There are a number of governmental, non-governmental, and community-based organizations that can assist immediately with a range of services.
An ICE Victim Assistance Coordinator can help connect you to these resources.


By mail or phone:
ICE Victim Assistance Program
Office of Investigations
500 12th St. SW, Mail Stop 5101
Washington, D.C. 20536-5101
Phone: 866-872-4973
Fax: 202-732-5876
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This page was last reviewed / modified on July 21, 2010.


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