Anti-immigrant group The Remembrance Project (TRP) will hold its second annual national conference November 3-5. Members of the group, which regularly upholds victims of crime to demonize immigrant communities and advocate for nativist policies, will meet at the Willard InterContinental hotel in Washington, D.C.
The conference will be TRP’s first since relocating to Washington, D.C. earlier this year to support the Trump administration’s draconian anti-immigrant agenda. One aspect of that agenda is particularly appealing to TRP: the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, office. Creating such an office–despite that fact that a national office for victims of crime already exists—has been a stated goal of TRP’s since 2015. TRP leader and co-founder Maria Espinoza was present when President Trump signed a January 25, 2017 executive order creating the VOICE office.
And so it is no surprise that Barbara Gonzalez, the acting director of VOICE, will be a featured speaker at TRP’s upcoming conference.
Gonzalez is a longtime employee within the public affairs wing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Gonzalez described the role of VOICE while speaking at a June 2017 event organized by anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies.
“[T]his office is not about pointing out the crimes of those unlawfully present in the country,” Gonzalez said, “but rather it’s about helping those who have been victimized, people who don’t understand immigration issues, people who want to know if the person that killed their loved ones will be deported, people who want to know what a detainer is, people who need our help.”
Gonzalez’s denial is telling. The truth regarding VOICE and Gonzalez’s leadership of the office directly contradict her account. As Splinter News reported earlier this month, VOICE call logs maintained by ICE reveal that few calls the office received involved victims seeking assistance. Instead, according to Splinter, “hundreds of Americans seized on the hotline to lodge secret accusations against acquaintances, neighbors, or even their own family members, often to advance petty personal grievances.”
Splinter also reported that ICE made a publicly available version of the call logs available on its website containing extremely sensitive personal information including unredacted phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers of suspected undocumented immigrants. Worse still, the information remained on ICE’s website days after reporters alerted the agency.
Hosting this personal information on its website isn’t just an egregious violation of privacy on the part of Gonzalez and ICE. It also, as Splinter’s Daniel Rivero and Brendan O’Connor note, “call[s] to mind the efforts of closed societies like East Germany or Cuba to cultivate vast networks of informants and an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.”
One can only imagine that Gonzalez will gloss over this stunning negligence during her remarks at TRP’s conference. Perhaps she will mimic TRP’s somber public tone while discussing grief, healing, and helping families. But TRP’s own actions as an organization utterly undermine those themes.
In June, Politico reported that more than a dozen families involved with TRP severed ties with the group after it failed to provide them assistance. The piece also revealed that The Remembrance Project misled donors and members alike by suggesting the money the group raised would be used to financially assist those who had lost a family member.
“We were used, abused and exploited, and what’s worse is that my son was used, abused and exploited and is still being used, abused and exploited,” one former TRP activist said of the group.
Others directly criticized the group’s co-founder and national director Maria Espinoza’s actions.
“As Trump became more popular, she started wanting more of a public presence,” another former TRP activist said of Espinoza. “The more involved I got, once I got past my son’s trial and could focus more on the organization, it just seemed like my values and my goals were different than what Maria’s were. It started to feel like this might be a steppingstone for her.”
In response to the Politico article, TRP announced a new “groundbreaking victims’ support initiative” with CAREforce.us and The Counseling Team International (TCTI). The initiative curiously mirrors the VOICE office, whose creation Espinoza and TRP championed. It appears to only direct victims to a hotline TCTI has already operated for over a decade. TRP has not produced any other information regarding the victims’ support initiative. Meanwhile, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reported, multiple individuals who cut ties with TRP announced the launch of a new organization, Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime.
At its first national conference last year, TRP monetized an appearance by then-candidate Trump. This year, it will apparently attempt to fundraise off of both the VOICE office and its own nebulous victims’ initiative. And Espinoza will enrich herself and raise her own public profile by exploiting the heartbreaking stories of others.
Whether she chooses to sink those ill-gotten gains into another unsuccessful congressional campaign remains to be seen. But it sure seems likely.