WASHINGTON, DC - Today one branch of Congress voted to undo nearly two decades of bi-partisan commitment to the protection of victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault. In passing H.R. 4970, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 (VAWA) (Adams, R-FL), the U.S. House of Representatives aims to eviscerate protections created by VAWA to ensure that battered immigrants are not further exploited by their abusers.
"This is a sad and frightening day for girls who have been raped, spouses who are trapped in abusive relationships, and all other immigrant victims of violence," said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. "As an attorney, how do I tell a battered woman that she should cooperate with the prosecution of her batterer but that she will likely get deported as a result?" Pelta continued, referring to a particularly harsh provision in H.R. 4970.
The U visa is available for victims of specific crimes who cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of the persons charged with the criminal activity. The provision in H.R. 4970 makes U visa protection merely temporary in almost all cases and takes away the protections a victim can receive by applying for a green card. "When reporting a crime will ultimately end in deportation, victims of crimes will not go to the police. That makes no sense. This bill makes no sense," Pelta said.
H.R. 4970 also establishes an extremely onerous adjudication process for victims to be granted self-petition under VAWA. "Why would we require two investigators, two interviews, and two different USCIS offices to review the application of an abused spouse? Nowhere else in our immigration law do we require such scrutiny of an applicant," said Pelta. "This process adds insult to injury for victims of abuse and creates administrative burdens for DHS adjudicators. It's a waste of government resources."
"Allegations of widespread fraud in VAWA programs are wholly unfounded," continued Pelta. "For every isolated incident of fraud, VAWA has saved thousands of lives by protecting victims. Moreover, DHS officials already screen cases with a high level of scrutiny. Adding more interviews or evidentiary checks goes far beyond what we require in any other area of law."
When Congress enacted VAWA in 1994 and reauthorized it twice in 2000 and 2005, it recognized that the noncitizen status of battered immigrants can make them particularly vulnerable. Abusers often exploit their victims' undocumented status, leaving the victim afraid to report the abuse to law enforcement and making them fearful of assisting with the prosecution of these crimes. "AILA calls upon both chambers of Congress to enact a bi-partisan bill that retains the vital protections for battered immigrants that have functioned effectively for years. We recommend taking up the Senate's bill S. 1925 and scrapping the House bill," said Pelta.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.