When the US government uses the term “criminal alien”, it means someone who is not a US citizen who has been convicted of a crime.
Twitter users, however, think flying saucers and The X-Files.
This week, the Department of Homeland Security opened a new office called VOICE to “serve the needs of crime victims and their families who have been impacted by crimes committed by removable criminal aliens”.
It’s based around a new hotline that victims can call for support and assistance.
It was set up under the authority of an executive order on immigration from President Trump in January.
But, like so many of Trump’s blatherings and blusterings, possibly no one in authority thought they were really going to be tasked with setting up an alien hotline.
Certainly, no one in an office in Washington DC looked at the idea in the planning stages and said, “Whoa, hang on a minute here … ”
And referred it upstairs to their boss for a second thought.
So John Kelly, the Director of Homeland Security (and that is a real department, folks, not to be mistaken for a TV series), called a press conference to announce the scheme on national TV.
Pretty quickly, those helpful folk on Twitter began making clear exactly what people should not be using the line for.
“The number for Trump’s hotline to report ‘criminal aliens’ is 855-48-VOICE. Please do not use this number to describe plots of X-Files episodes,” wrote Haunted Applebee.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if millions of people called this hotline to report their encounters with aliens of the UFO-variety?” mused Alexander McCoy.
Which, social media being just that sort of place where just that sort of thing tends to happen, they did.
It didn’t take long for a lot of users to notice the hotline was launched on Alien Day – a yearly promotion backed by the producers of the Alien film franchise.
“So, they introduced the alien hotline on Alien Day. I hope Sigourney Weaver called,” wrote Darth Hobo.
And soon, people inevitably said they were beginning to call the hotline to report “criminal alien” activity of a different kind than Kelly envisaged.
He said at the launch of VOICE that the victims were “unique, and too often ignored”.
“They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place,” he said. “Because the people who victimised them oftentimes should not have been in the country in the first place.”
Leo would agree about the kind of people who should not be in the US. “Seriously, I will be calling 1-855-48-VOICE very soon and very often about ET, Alien, probably Predator too, about the crimes they committed,” he tweeted.
“Just tried to call to report the theft of my tractor by space cadets,” complained dpolar, “on hold for 8 minutes, had to abandon, will call again soon.”
Stephen Tatton advised he “just called in an alien attack from Planet Voltron,” while Carlos In California reported the scariest potential alien attack of them all.
“Called Trump’s VOICE hotline for people to report ‘illegal aliens’. I reported seeing a bloated orange humanoid.”
It’s unclear how many people actually placed calls to the hotline, and several Twitter users reported long wait times to get through.
But the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency suggested it had affected their service.
“There are certainly more constructive ways to make one’s opinions heard than to prevent legitimate victims of crime from receiving the information and resources they seek because the lines are tied up by hoax callers,” sniffed a spokesperson who didn’t seem to see what his own department had exposed itself to.
The government says the VOICE office will keep victims of alleged crimes by undocumented migrants updated as the suspect moves through the immigration and possibly the deportation system.
Opponents point out that numerous studies have shown immigrants are far less likely to commit serious crimes or be jailed than the native-born population.
The American Immigration Council says this “holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorised, regardless of their country of origin or level of education”.