The number of calls to a national immigration and customs hotline—including tips turning in illegal immigrants—has skyrocketed in the past six months, according to officials of the Department of Homeland Security.
Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia lauded the record growth of the hotline operated by his agency.
“Alert citizens, using the . . . tip line, are making significant contributions to homeland security,” Garcia said in a statement Tuesday.
But the growing popularity of the government hotline, (866) 347-2423, has immigrants and their advocates worried about racial stereotyping and targeting of immigrant communities. It comes in the wake of a controversial gathering of civilians who call themselves “Minutemen,” intent on patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to hunt down illegal immigrants. President George W. Bush has called them vigilantes.
“It promotes hysteria,” said Bill Ong Hing, professor of law and Asian-American studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, of the hotline. “It’s not a healthy society when you encourage this kind of vigilante mentality.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hotline started as a pilot program in 2003 in Arizona, to allow the public to report incidents of sexual exploitation and child abuse. Called Operation Predator then, the hotline has grown since to include tips about a broad range of crimes involving U.S. immigration and customs laws.
In fiscal year 2004, from October 2003 through September 2004, there were 27,671 calls to the hotline. In the past six months, the new fiscal year, there were 41,500 calls.
On a given day, the hotline will receive tips about human smuggling, drug smuggling, identity theft, a corporation hiring undocumented immigrants and immigrants who have been deported and have returned to the United States, said spokesman Michael W. Gilhooly.