Posts tagged ‘VAWA’

Our Lady Liberty Still Stands As A Beacon Of Freedom

To every immigrant, nothing rings more true than the words of the Emma Lazarus Poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And nothing exemplifies the meaning of such words more than the actions taken by the Senate this week in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate did the right thing in continuing to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – abused women and children. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders still haven’t signaled what they plan to do.

The bill passed the Senate 78 to 22. Among the Senators voted against VAWA reauthorization were Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FLA). Senators Graham and Rubio are members of the “Gang of Eight” who have offered a bipartisan framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.. Sen. Grassley tried to push amendments to VAWA that would have undermined the protections for victims of domestic violence. Thankfully, his harmful amendments did not get into the final bill, but there is a risk they will reappear when the House takes up the measure.

VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation first enacted in 1994 to improve responses to violence against women—including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It was later reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. VAWA made it clear that that our society would no longer tolerate crimes of violence against women, children and the elderly. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, yet it took Congress two more years to act.

The 1994 VAWA included provisions to allow immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse or parent through a process called “self-petitioning.” The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) created new forms of immigration relief for immigrant victims of violent crime – the U visas and victims of sexual assault or trafficking – the T visas. Finally, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 expanded these protections and included some victims of elder abuse. It is important to note that the 2013 Senate bill does not create any new immigration benefits yet it makes important improvements to the VAWA immigration protections. Some of the noteworthy ones are, for example, preventing children listed in their parent’s U visas applications from “aging-out” – that means protecting them, even if they turn 21 years of age before the application is adjudicated. It also adds “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by the U visa which is a critical law enforcement tool.

The 2013 VAWA Senate bill also provides for vital disclosures regarding any violent criminal histories of sponsoring U.S. fiancé(e)s /spouses and other safeguards to give foreign fiancé(e)s/ spouses of U.S. citizens information they need to protect themselves from entering abusive marriages. Significantly, the 2013 VAWA Senate reauthorization bill strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence ensuring that all programs receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It explicitly includes the LGBT community in its grant program, which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. The bill also establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Republican House of Representatives has an opportunity to protect America’s women and children by passing the Senate’s reauthorized VAWA bill. Protection of victims of domestic violence deserves bipartisan support that will ring true to the principles and legacy of our founding fathers – and as President Obama declared in his State of the Union address: “Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.” This includes the freedom from abuse and fear.

Now is the time to seek bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) can make history by reauthorizing VAWA so that Lady Liberty may continue to stand tall…

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”

Immigrant Women: Forgotten and Discounted

While there was plenty of talk during the presidential debates about the equality of women, one group remained unmentioned and invisible: immigrant women who suffer in silence at the hands of their abusers.

During the second presidential debate, candidates were asked about how each of them intended to rectify gender inequality in the workplace. President Obama explained that he signed the Lily Ledbetter bill furthering the rights of women to demand equal pay for equal work. He analogized that women’s issues are family issues and that is why we must fight for them. Governor Romney talked about his experience trying to ensure he had women’s voices in his Cabinet as Massachusetts governor, with his now-famous reference to “binders full of women.”

Both candidates again mentioned women in the third presidential debate. Governor Romney talked about how with “the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women [in] public life and in economic life in the Middle East”, and President Obama talked about the responsibility of the United States to “make sure that we’re protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population — not just half of it — is developing.”

What the debates and ensuing social media traffic has missed however, is the reality that thousands of immigrant women right here in the United States continue to be forgotten and discounted no matter how much equality there is on the books or how much flexibility employers give their women workers. The reality is especially dire for undocumented immigrant women, who are at the mercy of their abusers and face what seem insurmountable barriers to escaping the physical, psychological and emotional bonds of their relationship.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation that was enacted to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. Congress passed VAWA in 1994. It was subsequently reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals finally understood that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010.

It is now 2012 and VAWA has not been reauthorized.

In a statement made on the 18th Anniversary of the VAWA, Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has historically done to pass a VAWA reauthorization that “expands rather than limits victim access to justice and strengthens law enforcement and prosecutorial tools to seek justice and hold violators accountable.” He noted that VAWA has been strengthened each time it has been reauthorized, and that after 18 years of progress, it should be no different.

The clock however is ticking.

Approximately…

  • 658 days have passed since VAWA expired
  • 160 days have passed since Congress’ last action on VAWA, and there are only
  • 48 days until this Congressional session ends and VAWA 2012 dies!

During the past 10 years, with VAWA as an example, states have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and changed laws that treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape. Businesses have also joined the national fight against violence. Hundreds of companies have created Employee Assistance Programs that help victims of domestic violence.

We cannot afford to lose these protections for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Women are often the primary caretakers, the bread-winners as single mothers, the ones who keep the family together, and the nucleus of our society. When mothers are imprisoned at home, abused, broken, and discarded, so are our children – the future of our society. For immigrant women, the terror of an abusive relationship is compounded. Subjected to threats because of her immigration status, an immigrant woman is likely to be unaware of resources available and terrified of leaving her only source of shelter and sustenance, not knowing who to turn to without identification or legal status.

Research shows that nearly 75% of abused immigrant women reported their spouses had never filed immigration papers to give them legal status. Abusers who eventually filed papers for their immigrant spouses waited almost four years to file. In addition, immigrant women report that their abusers threaten them with deportation if they try to leave. Worse even, studies show that less than 20% of battered immigrant women without legal immigration status are likely to contact the police. Yet since VAWA was first enacted, studies show that reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51%.

The presidential candidates mentioned women at least 30 times in the second presidential debate and fewer times in the third debate. It was a push to court the votes of American women while immigrant women remain forgotten and discounted by Congress.  Our great Nation cannot move forward unless all the population — not just half of it — can participate in Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.