An Illinois tipster called the Department of Homeland Security’s hotline in Vermont last February, saying that while he was helping a “Russian lady” change a flat tire, he saw a pipe bomb in the trunk of her car, says USA Today. A device later was found to have been planted by the woman’s ex-husband, was charged in a plot to have the immigrant woman jailed and deported. The hotline, says USA Today, “has become a venting board for tens of thousands of tips from across the USA that have nothing to do with potential threats to the homeland.”
Each day, operators at the Law Enforcement Support Center hear stories about broken marriages that lead one spouse to report the other’s illegal immigration status; disputes that lead one neighbor to report information about another; business owners reporting that their rivals are employing illegal immigrants. Scott Blackman, the center’s unit chief, says it’s unclear whether information received on the hotline has led to the arrest of a terrorism suspect. During the 2004 budget year, the center reported identifying more than 6,000 illegal immigrants who were wanted by police. Blackman estimates that about half the calls to the hotline contain false information that law enforcement agencies nevertheless have to check out. He says that’s a reasonable cost for getting leads that local law enforcement can use. Civil liberties activists and immigrant advocacy groups express concern that the hotline and others like it have awakened a nation of busybodies motivated by revenge, ethnic bias, or worse. The hotline is receiving a rising number of abuse complaints. Last year, an allegation of abuse led federal agents to a home in Milwaukee, where a woman was freed from what agents described as almost 20 years of indentured servitude.