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Violence Against Women Act – Update May 10

On May 8, the House Judiciary Committee marked up and passed the Adams (R-FL) version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), H.R. 4970. This bill is detrimental to the survival of victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. After much debate and various amendments offered, the Committee ultimately allowed three provisions that, in the interest of justice and common sense, must be removed from the bill:

Section 801: This provision modifies the VAWA self-petition process by:

  • eliminating confidentiality protections for battered immigrants,
  • imposing the highest burden of proof in our immigration system on self-petitioners,
  • taking authority away from the specially-trained USCIS VAWA unit in Vermont and giving it to local districts inexperienced in victim issues
  • mandating a permanent bar, FBI criminal investigation, and expedited removal of victims and all derivatives for alleged “material misrepresentations.”

These requirements would significantly inhibit any frightened victim from coming forward.

Section 802: Reforms the U visa program by: denying eligibility to the program based on decisions that law enforcement makes about investigating or prosecuting the reported crime (this provision was modified in the Judiciary Committee’s markup).

These officers are not necessarily trained in domestic violence but they will make decisions related to domestic crimes that have huge ramifications for those who suffer from the violence.

Section 806: Eliminates the ability of U visa recipients to adjust their status to a green card, thereby discouraging victims to cooperate with law enforcement.

They are permitted legal status only until we admit their testimony and obtain convictions. Once American safety is enhanced by the incarceration of the abusers, the victims must then leave.

H.R. 4970 also failed to include much-needed provisions that were in the Senate-passed bill (S. 1925), including protections for Native Americans. The House bill does not allow tribes to prosecute domestic violence committed by non-Indians. Indian women suffer high rates of victimization due to a current gap in law enforcement and court jurisdiction over crimes of domestic and sexual violence occurring on tribal land. H.R. 4970 also weakens housing provisions and adopts “gender-neutral” language that dismisses issues of LGBT victims. It is a bad law and there are better alternatives already on the table in the House.

H.R. 4970 is expected to reach the House floor early next week. The sponsors may put it up for vote “under suspension’.” This tactic precludes anyone from making a comment or amendment. Legislators must merely vote yea or nay and it must get 2/3 majority in order to pass. At first blush, that seems like a high majority to obtain in this political climate. However, since the legislators cannot make comments, they may not wish to go on record against a violence protection law no matter how incomplete and harmful it may be. That is why we need your voice and letters. There are alternative VAWA Bills in the House such as Gwen Moore’s (WI-D) and Judy Biggert’s (IL- R), which are more consistent with the acceptable Senate bill S.1925)