As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), domestic and sexual violence victims are in danger of losing important protections under the law. Unlike previous reauthorizations of VAWA, a law originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, reauthorization this year has been a largely partisan process in both the Senate and the House. As we have written previously, the Senate’s bill to reauthorize VAWA had bipartisan sponsorship, but passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on only a party-line vote of 10-8 without a single committee Republican voting in favor of reauthorization. The bill ultimately passed the Senate in a 68-31 vote, with several Republicans supporting it.
In the House, partisanship has resulted in a maneuver by Republicans that will undermine previously enacted protections under VAWA. On May 8, 2012, the House Judiciary Committee approved a marked up version of H.R. 4970 introduced by House Republicans to reauthorize VAWA and to reduce protections for victims. It passed out of committee in a 17-15 vote, with only one Republican voting against the harmful bill.
Among its harmful provisions, H.R. 4970 targets immigrant domestic and sexual violence victims, who are among the most vulnerable victims because of language and cultural barriers to accessing services and, for some, undocumented status. Sections 802 and 806 of the bill are particularly harmful. Section 802 would limit the circumstances under which a victim qualifies for a “U” Visa, which provides an opportunity for undocumented victims of serious crimes to gain lawful status if they meet certain criteria. Congress created the “U” Visa in 2000 to encourage immigrant victims to report crime and to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes. Section 802 of the bill would undermine these purposes of the “U” Visa in several ways, including by requiring that victims report the crime within 60 days, a burdensome obstacle for immigrant crime victims who have difficulty accessing services. It would also require that the “U” Visa applicant provide information that assists in identifying the perpetrator of the crime, even though it is sometimes difficult for victims to be able to identify a perpetrator accurately. Section 806 of the bill would further undermine the purpose behind “U” Visas by terminating the visa recipient’s eligibility for permanent residence.
If passed into law, these provisions of H.R. 4970 will harm immigrant domestic and sexual violence victims, making it harder for these women to report and escape from violence in their lives. The safety of these women should not be subject to partisan politics.
Please tell your representative in the House that all domestic and sexual violence victims deserve protection. Urge him or her to oppose H.R. 4970. To call your representative, dial 202-224-3121 and tell the operator the name of your representative.