The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark piece of legislation that was the first to offer clear protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, is up for reauthorization this year. The law has been instrumental in providing protections for immigrants who have faced this type of violence.
Due to the government shutdown, VAWA expired on December 21, 2018. It was briefly revived through a short-term spending bill in late January 2019 but lapsed again in mid-February. Last week, Congress resumed efforts to reinstate the legislation by passing out of the House Judiciary Committee H.R. 1585, a bipartisan bill to reauthorize VAWA and adjust some aspects of the existing law.
First enacted in 1994, the law authorizes federal grant programs that provide a range of services, including rape prevention, funding for victim assistance services, and legal aid for survivors of domestic violence. These programs provide funding to state, tribal, territorial, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and universities.
VAWA needs to be reauthorized every five years and, to date, Congress has done so three times. VAWA and its reauthorizations have drastically improved the services available for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence—and importantly includes protections for immigrants.
VAWA extends protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse. These protections allow for immigrant victims to self-petition for lawful immigration status in place of a petition that would typically need to be filed by the abusive spouse. By allowing them to petition for themselves, victims of violence can seek permanent resident status without being tied to their abuser, who often threatens to report the victim to the immigration agencies.
Another past addition to the bill helped immigrant victims reach out safely to the police and allowed them to serve as witnesses in police investigations.
In this year’s committee markup, there are several new additions to VAWA that address concerns that have emerged since the last authorization. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler explained that the 2019 bill “makes critical improvements to address dating violence, stalking, and concerns raised by the #MeToo movement; increases protections for Native American women, addresses violence against men and children, and is more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.”
During markup, concerns arose because of proposals to ensure that VAWA is more inclusive of boys, men, and transgender women. As written, the 2019 VAWA legislation is more gender inclusive.
VAWA is a vital piece of legislation that has a long history of bipartisan support in Congress and in the country. The protections it provides to victims are important and should be safeguarded well into the future.