By Carol Jablonski, Special NDG Contributor
In 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and then worked in a bi-partisan fashion to reauthorize it twice. It is currently due for reauthorization, and it was encouraging to see that in the Senate 15 Republicans joined the Democrats in passing renewing VAWA. What happened in the House was another story.
When Congress originally created VAWA, it recognized that the abusive spouses of immigrants often failed to file residency petitions for these domestic abuse victims so they could threaten the victim with deportation if he or she were to report the abuse or try to leave the abuser. So VAWA provides a means for the abused spouse of a citizen or legal permanent resident to file a petition for status on his or her own. These petitions are reviewed by USCIS employees trained in abuse and must be based on credible evidence.
VAWA also makes available the U Visa, which allows a victim of certain crimes to stay in the US legally if he or she cooperates with law enforcement in prosecuting the crime, obtains certification from law enforcement of cooperation and suffers severe physical or emotional injury. These special visas are also subject to careful review for legal compliance.
House Republicans have introduced House Bill 4970, which would gut both of these protections for immigrants.
First, with respect to self-petitions, this bill would raise the standard of proof to a standard much higher than the preponderance of evidence standard applied in civil cases to recover even multi-million dollar awards.
Second, the bill would do away with the trained reviewers and spread review among all officers throughout the country. Finally, the bill would do away with the confidentiality of the current law and inform abusers of the petitions and allow them to participate in the process.
With respect to the U Visa, the bill also imposes extremely strict standards. For example, a rape victim who is unable to identify her rapist would not qualify, even though she cooperates with the police. Also, the bill takes away the ability of a U Visa holder to petition for a green card after three years.
Without the prospect of qualifying for a green card, a victim of abuse is less likely to report abuse and to cooperate with law enforcement officials in prosecuting their abuser as once the visa expires, its holder is subject to deportation. As a result, victims of crime would be better off NOT reporting criminal activity and staying under the radar.
Republicans claim that their legislation will prevent an “amnesty program” for immigrants. However, with fewer than 5,000 self-petitions and only 10,000 U Visas in 2010, the provisions of VAWA hardly create a widespread amnesty program. And given the proof requirements for both forms of relief, it is difficult to see that there is any wide-spread fraud.
Democrats must unite to stop Republicans from further victimizing these vulnerable members of society.