On April 26, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization by a bipartisan vote of 68 to 31, which upholds the traditions of VAWA Reauthorizations of being bipartisan and working to ensure all victims of domestic and sexual violence should be protected.
By sharp contrast on May 16th, 2012, the House passed H.R. 4970, a controversial House GOP version of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization that fails to include many of the protections in the Senate bill and also rolls back current protections. A manager's amendment made a few modest changes in the area of immigrant victims - but even with the manager's amendment, the GOP version remains a partisan bill that rolls back key protections in current law for many domestic violence victims, making them less safe.
The GOP bill rolls back certain long-standing VAWA protections that help promote the safety of battered immigrant victims:
- Weakens protections for battered immigrant spouses legally here, under the “self-petition” provisions in VAWA since 1994. For example, even with the manager's amendment, the bill will delay and deny protection for many spouses, adding new layers of bureaucracy that will slow down their efforts to obtain independent status and potentially make them less safe.
- Fundamentally weakens the U visa program, which was created in VAWA in 2000 to encourage immigrant victims of crime to report and help prosecute serious criminal activity. The bill discourages victims from cooperating, fearing that doing so could lead to deportation, by removing the opportunity of most victims to apply to become permanent residents.
The GOP bill fails:
- to include key provisions, which are included in the Senate-passed bill, to protect the LGBT community. Recent studies show that LGBT victims of domestic violence face discrimination when accessing services. The provisions in the Senate bill are responsive to the real needs of real victims and have the support of law enforcement and service providers around the country.
- to include many of the key provisions in the Senate bill to protect Native American women, including provisions providing concurrent tribal jurisdiction over those who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country.
- to include provisions in the Senate bill to allow law enforcement to request up to 5,000 additional U visas a year for immigrant victims helping law enforcement prosecute sexual assault, domestic violence and other serious crimes.
The GOP bill, as modified by the manager's amendment, is opposed by more than 100 organizations, including National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Organization for Women, American Bar Association, National Council of La Raza, and U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Administration has also issued a veto threat on the bill.
Rolls Back Current Protections for Domestic Violence Victims
Undermines Key Protections for Battered Immigrant Spouses, Under the VAWA “Self-Petition” Program
- Batterers often compound the physical or mental abuse of their immigrant spouses with threats of deportation. To protect these vulnerable victims and encourage them to report crime, the VAWA self-petition for immigration status was created in 1994 in the original Violence Against Women Act.
- The VAWA self-petition process allows battered immigrants, who are living legally within the United States as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, to petition for independent legal status without relying on their abusive spouse as a sponsor.
- The manager's amendment makes some changes in this part of the bill, but fails to eliminate many of the rollbacks in the GOP bill, which can make women less safe. The bill still significantly tips the scales in favor of abusers by eliminating one of the most crucial protections for battered women in current law - that statements provided by abusers must be corroborated before they can be used to deny petitions by battered immigrants.
- Secondly, the bill still contains several provisions that can delay and deny protection to many battered spouses, including staying adjudications during pending prosecutions; and adding a whole new level of bureaucracy by requiring that two separate adjudicators work on each case and that two separate interviews be conducted with the victim. In these cases, delay can actually endanger a woman's life.
Undermines the VAWA U Visa Program, Which Protects Immigrant Victims of Serious Crimes
- The U Visa was created in VAWA 2000 to encourage immigrant victims of serious crimes to report and help prosecute the criminal activity. Under current law, the U Visa program allows law enforcement officials to request up to 10,000 visas each year for victims who are helping to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. The U Visa program has always been strongly supported by law enforcement, including the Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs' Association, National District Attorneys Association, and National Association of Attorneys General.
- The House GOP bill fundamentally undermines the U visa program, by turning the U visa into a temporary visa for most immigrants:
- Current law allows U visa recipients to apply to become permanent residents. This provision has been part of the U visa program from the beginning and has had bipartisan support.
- The original GOP bill prevented all women with U visas from applying for permanent residency. Under the manager's amendment, the vast majority of immigrant women will still be unable to apply for permanent residency; it would only be those who meet all three of the following criteria: 1) the perpetrator was actually convicted of the serious crime for which the U visa was granted; 2) the perpetrator is an immigrant from the same country as the victim; and 3) the perpetrator has already been deported to the same country to which the victim would have to return after expiration of the U visa.
- By removing this opportunity, victims will not have the incentive to voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement in dangerous criminal investigations, and in fact may be discouraged from cooperating, fearing that doing so would lead to deportation.
GOP Bill FAILS to Include Many of the Key Provisions, Included in Bipartisan Senate Bill, To Protect Native American Women
- Women in tribal communities experience domestic violence at rates far higher than the general population, often at the hands of non-Indian men. Indeed, well over 50 percent of all Native American women are married to or live with a non-Indian.
- Currently, many of these domestic violence crimes go unprosecuted because tribal courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian defendants. Additionally, federal and state law enforcement and prosecutors have limited resources and may be located hours away. As a result, non-Indian perpetrators regularly go unpunished, and their violence continues.
- Unfortunately, this House GOP bill fails to include many of the key provisions in the Senate-passed bill that fill this jurisdictional gap by narrowly expanding concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over those who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country, in specified circumstances and with significant protections for the rights of defendants.
- Furthermore, the manager's amendment actually includes provisions that will make Native Americans LESS safe. The National Congress of American Indians has sent a letter to Congress, stating, “[The manager's amendment] includes a dangerous new provision that has the potential to further undermine the safety and autonomy of victims in Indian Country. … [It] would allow tribal governments to seek a protection order from the federal government regardless of the wishes of the victims. This runs contrary to one of the foundational principles of VAWA, which has always encouraged and supported victim-centered responses that help restore autonomy and control to battered women.”
GOP Bill FAILS to Include Key Provisions, Included in Bipartisan Senate Bill, to Protect LGBT Community
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered victims experience domestic violence in 25-35 percent of relationships - the same rate as the general population.
- Recent studies show that LGBT victims face discrimination when accessing services. For example, 45 percent of LGBT victims were turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter, according to a 2010 survey, and nearly 55 percent were denied protection orders.
- Unfortunately, this House GOP bill fails to include key provisions in the Senate-passed bill that would better ensure equal justice under the law to LGBT victims, including prohibiting any VAWA-funded program from discriminating against anyone based on their sexual orientation and explicitly including the LGBT community in the “STOP Grant program” that provides funds to domestic violence service providers.
- The Senate bill's provisions were developed by service providers. As Cindy Dyer, former director of the Office on Violence Against Women in the Bush Administration stated, “It is imperative that police and prosecutors are able to protect all victims of intimate partner violence. Failing to provide services to, obtain protective orders for, or prosecute the cases of victims simply because of their sexual orientation is a dangerous practice.” Despite House GOP claims, these provisions are not political.
GOP Bill FAILS to Include Key Provisions, Included in Bipartisan Senate Bill, to Increase Number of U Visas
- The U Visa program allows law enforcement to request visas for victims who are helping them investigate serious crimes. The Senate bill allows for up to 5,000 additional visas to be drawn each year, at law enforcement request, from a pool of previously authorized but never issued U Visas.
- Law enforcement requested this modest increase because the current cap of 10,000 has been reached the past two years, making it more difficult for police and prosecutors to pursue cases against dangerous perpetrators that they could otherwise reach. Unfortunately, this House GOP bill fails to include these key provisions in the Senate bill granting this increase requested by law enforcement.
- The increase in U visas is supported by such organizations as Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs' Association, National District Attorneys Association, and National Association of Attorneys General.
- The Fraternal Order of Police points out, “U visas are an invaluable tool that allow law enforcement to do its job more effectively and makes it easier to pursue prosecution of criminals. Furthermore, the expansion of the U visa will provide incalculable benefits to our citizens and our communities at a negligible cost.”
More Than 100 Organizations Oppose the House GOP Bill
More than 100 organizations oppose the House GOP bill, including such groups as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Break the Cycle, Legal Momentum, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, YWCA USA, AAUW, Business and Professional Women's Foundation, National Women's Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, American Bar Association, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Human Rights Campaign, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and National Congress of American Indians.
The National Association of Evangelicals is opposed to the immigrant provisions in the bill.