Some members of the House of Representatives have proposed
changes to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that could have disastrous
consequences for the abused immigrant women Human Rights Initiative works so
hard to help.
This is URGENT
because the House is voting on the bill, HR 4970, this Wednesday, May
16. Please contact your Representative
and ask him or her to stand with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault
and violent crime, and vote against HR 4970. You can find your representative
The new provisions essentially destroy the U Visa which aids
immigrant victims of violent crime. In
addition, the changes will make it more difficult and risky for undocumented
women who are married to abusive U.S. Citizens or green card holders
to obtain the relief they seek. HRI
strongly opposes HR 4970. This bill
dangerously politicizes the protection of victims of domestic violence, sexual
assault and other violent crime. VAWA
has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was first enacted in 1994, and
when it was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.
The law has long been recognized as a critical law enforcement tool, helping
the most vulnerable victims of abuse and violent crime in our communities,
undocumented women and children. However,
HR 4970 includes changes that undermine years of protections for immigrants who
have been victims of human rights abuses.
HR 4970 guts the U Visa of one of its central and most
important provisions. If this bill is
enacted, immigrant victims of serious crimes will be reluctant to come forward,
and community safety will be undermined.
The U Visa allows victims of violent crime to petition for immigration
status if they assist law enforcement with the apprehension and prosecution of
the offender. The purpose behind the law
is to encourage society’s most marginalized crime victims to come forward
without fear of deportation so that police can do their jobs and catch
criminals. Law enforcement, which views
the U Visa as a significant tool, must sign a document indicating the crime and
how the U Visa applicant was helpful.
With the certification, and if the applicant meets other requirements,
he or she is granted a U Visa for four years, and can apply for a green card
after three years. The proposed changes
in HR 4970 would prevent successful U Visa applicants from later applying for a
green card. This renders the U Visa
essentially meaningless and significantly reduces the incentive for these
victims to come out of the shadows and reach out to police. There is still a considerable fear among this
population that they will be deported, a fear that would be quite reasonable if
HR 4970 becomes law.
In addition, the bill requires that the crime be under
active investigation or prosecution at the time of law enforcement
certification. This would drastically
reduce the number of victims who would be eligible. Law enforcement often is reluctant to sign
off until after a case is closed – they want to be sure that the victim’s
testimony is not suspect because of any promise of immigration status. Many of
HRI’s U Visa clients are children who have bravely come forward to report
sexual abuse and other crimes; under HR 4970 many of them would be left without
Another part of VAWA that is at risk is the VAWA
self-petitioning process for women who are married to abusive U.S. Citizens
or green card holders. These women are
eligible to apply for immigration status because of their marriage, however,
many abusers use the woman’s undocumented status as a tool in the cycle of
abuse. They refuse to apply for their
spouses and threaten to call immigration on their undocumented wives,
preventing the battered women from seeking help from the police or social
services. The VAWA self-petitioning
process allows these women to apply on their own for a status that they would
have obtained but for the abuse, and escape their abusive marriage.
HR 4970 gravely endangers these women and increases the risk
that they will stay in their violent relationships. Under this proposed law, U.S.
immigration officers would get to notify and interview the abuser, tipping them
off that the victim has filed for VAWA.
This eliminates crucial confidentiality protections that have been in
place since 1994. Abusers will be able
to argue against their battered wives, continuing the cycle of control and
abuse, and allowing the perpetrators to again be able to use the immigration
system as a tool of exploitation. What
batterer is going to admit that he abused his wife to a government official? In addition, HR 4970 discriminates against
battered women by making them prove their cases by “clear and convincing
evidence,” a much higher standard than is used for any other type of
immigration case (or even the award of a multi-million dollar judgment in a
civil case). Thus, it will be more
difficult for abused women and children to have their cases granted.
Another change is that HR 4970 would seriously punish women
who make mistakes on their applications.
There are already provisions in place that render someone ineligible if
she willfully misrepresents the facts of her story, however, under the proposed
law, any error would cause the woman to be removable from the United States on
an expedited basis and would permanently bar her from any future immigration
status. She would also be referred to
the FBI for criminal prosecution.
Innocent mistakes can be common, such as when a woman states a date from
the past from memory that turns out to be wrong. VAWA, as proposed in HR 4970, would not excuse
any of these small errors but would treat her as someone who has purposefully
committed fraud. This would cause
battered women to be reluctant to enter the VAWA process.
Another proposed change would move the adjudication of these
petitions to local offices from a center in Vermont where the immigration agents are
specially trained in the VAWA law and in the effects of domestic violence and
sexual assault. Battered women would be
interviewed by immigration agents who may not understand the cycle of violence
many victims endure or the traumatic effects these assaults can have. The process would also be longer and more
expensive. These petitions should
continue to be reviewed by specialists.
We urge you to contact your Representative and urge him or her
to vote “NO” on HR 4970. The abuse of
women should not be politicized and VAWA is not a place to enact immigration
reform. Please stand with our brave
clients and others like them by contacting your Representative NOW.
The U Visa and VAWA also protect men.
Indeed, many of HRI’s U Visa clients are men as are a few of our VAWA
clients. However, because the vast
majority of domestic violence and sexual assault victims are women, we refer to
those who will be most impacted by these changes to VAWA as women.