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Proposed law impacts violence against immigrant women

by Matthew McClellan
Feb 6, 2013

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V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.Apna Ghar, Inc.Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Quick Facts about VAWA (provided by

 • Fewer people are experiencing domestic violence.

o Between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67%;

o Between 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35% and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46%.

• More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests.

• VAWA has improved the criminal justice response to violence against women by:

o Holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal “rape shield law,” which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial;

o Mandating that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order;

o Keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States.

The Senate voted this week to proceed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, incorporating some failed provisions introduced last year that may impact battered immigrant women.

The law was first passed in 1994 under the leadership of then Delaware Senator Joe Biden, as part of President Clinton’s Crime Act, which allocated resources to law enforcement, victim assistance, prosecutions and crime prevention efforts.

Nearly 1.6 billion federal dollars were set aside for VAWA to fund programs over a six-year period for sexual violence and domestic abuse prevention and prosecution.

Congress reauthorized the law in 2000 and again in 2005 before it expired in 2011. Reauthorization bills were passed in both the Senate and the House last year but died when the bills could not be reconciled.

Republicans rejected provisions that would increase the number of U visas given to undocumented, battered immigrant women, which would grant them temporary legal status and the ability to work in the states.

In a prepared floor statement last term, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, expressed concern over the bill failing to address possible immigration fraud.

“We cannot allow people to misuse the VAWA self-petitioning process to obtain a green card.” Grassley said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, sponsor of this term’s reauthorization act in the Senate, has removed the provision to increase the number of U visas granted in order to make the bill more palatable to House Republicans and to avoid the technical objection the bill suffered last term.

Leahy said setting aside the provision “will give the new VAWA bill a stronger chance of passing both chambers this year.”

Neha Gill, with Apna Ghar Inc., an organization that aims to end the cycle of domestic violence in immigrant communities in the Chicago area, said the U visas should not be a part of the compromise.

Gill said the fear of immigration fraud is misplaced because there are already so many checks in place to prevent fraud and that committing immigration fraud is not as simple as opponents make it out to be.

In her work dealing with immigrant women, Gill said there are many crimes that victims don’t report out of fear, so the likelihood of applying for false U visas is not viable.

But as proposed in last term’s failed bill, the new reauthorization act adds stalking to the list of eligible crimes under the law, which will protect the fiancées or fiancés of U.S. citizens.

Gill said this provision would have a positive impact in understanding the different types of experiences when it comes to domestic violence.

“Domestic violence is sometimes seen as something physical,” Gill said. “Stalking is a huge part of it.”

Gill said the new provision would help combat the constant harassing phone calls or unwanted surveilance that accompany the physical violence victims suffer.

The new reauthorization act also includes measures to further combat domestic violence on campuses and against other at-risks groups, such as members of the LGBT community and Native American women.

Since the original law was enacted, all states have made stalking a crime, penalized civil protection order violations and stiffened penalties for date and spousal rape, which were previously regarded as lesser crimes than rape by a stranger.

The current bill has bipartisan support from more than 60 Senate co-sponsors. The Senate will vote on the bill Thursday.