This year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization. Last week, the Senate passed a reauthorization (S. 1925)—which provides protection to people who are the victims of domestic violence, rape, trafficking, sexual assault, stalking, and similar crimes—by a vote of 68-31.  The House will takes up its own version next week, but in contrast to the Senate bill, which strengthened protections for immigrants, the House bill threatens to rollback protections for immigrant women and children who are victims of abuse.

VAWA has routinely received bipartisan support, including its protections for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. Immigrant women face specific challenges when they have an abusive spouse. For example, immigrants with abusive spouses can self-petition for a green card, thus removing their dependence on an abusive spouse for legal status.  VAWA also created U visas for victims of crimes who cooperate with the authorities to investigate the crime and T visas for victims of human trafficking.

The Senate bill expanded several protections for immigrant women and children including:

  • Allows for up to 5,000 additional U visas annually.
  • Adds “stalking” to the list of criminal activities covered by U visas for victims.
  • Provides protections for minor children of self-petitioners who die before the petition is completed.
  • Provides that VAWA self-petitioners and applicants for T and U visas cannot be barred from admission on grounds they are a public charge.
  • Provides that children of the applicants of U visas will be covered on their parent’s application for a visa if they turn 21 before the application process is complete.
  • Adds protections for fiancées or fiancés on K visas from potentially abusive marriages.
  • Requires annual reports to be submitted on the outcomes of VAWA immigration cases.

However, the Senate bill also includes a provision added by Senator Grassley (R-IA) that makes a third drunk driving (DUI) conviction an “aggravated felony,” meaning the immigrant is subject to mandatory deportation and denial of any benefits.

The House will likely take up H.R. 4970, introduced by Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL).  While the details are still being worked out, the House bill appears intent on rolling back years of VAWA protections for immigrants.  The House bill:

  • Does not allow for any additional U visas.
  • Allows alleged abusers to provide their side of the story and submit evidence to USCIS adjudicators.
  • Subjects victims to greater penalties for perjury or misrepresentation, including expedited removal.
  • Creates higher standards, including even more cooperation with law enforcement that U visa applicants must meet.
  • Moves adjudication of VAWA cases from the well-regarded, specialized adjudication unit in Vermont to local offices.

VAWA is an important piece of legislation that deserves to be free from partisan battles over immigration issues.  For many years, Congress has been able to agree on protections for immigrant victims, and we hope that this year will not be an exception.

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