How the Weakened House Version of VAWA Hurts Immigrant Women

Yesterday, we wrote about the House GOP’s effort to gut the Violence Against Women Act in response to a Senate reauthorization of the act that expands protections for gay and lesbian victims, Native Americans and immigrants. In the Daily Beast today, Michele Goldberg looks at some of the way the House-passed version of VAWA not only doesn’t expand protections for vulnerable groups, but removes existing domestic violence protections for immigrant women:

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, has been representing immigrant victims of domestic violence for 15 years. In all of the hundreds of cases she has worked on, she says, “I’ve never had a case where the abuser did not use his immigration status as a tool.” Often an abusive American citizen or permanent resident with an immigrant wife will threaten her with deportation, which could separate her from her American children. Or he’ll begin the paperwork to sponsor his spouse for a green card but threaten to withdraw it. “You have no rights in this country,” an abuser will tell his victim, says Ruiz-Velasco.

The Violence Against Women Act offers these women some protection. But on Wednesday, House Republicans passed a reauthorization bill that significantly weakens it, claiming that VAWA facilitates immigration fraud. “For those of us who’ve been in the antiviolence movement for the last 30 years, some of the biggest victories are being completely turned on their head by what’s going on,” says Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a human-rights organization that has worked closely with immigrant victims of violence.

GOP opposition to the VAWA reauthorization is mind-boggling The sponsor of the House Republican’s bill, Florida’s Sandy Adams, claims that defending victims of domestic violence is a sort of zero-sum game. “Once you start listing out groups or listing in groups, then you’re excluding groups,” she told MSNBC today.

Needless to say, there is no evidence that making it easier for immigrant women to escape abusive relationships or making sure gay and lesbian victims are served by VAWA grantees or letting Native American women seek legal recourse through the tribal court system will hurt women who seek protection through the existing parts of the bill.

Each time Congress has reauthorized VAWA it has worked to improve it, to make it work better for more victims. This time is no different. Except, it seems, for the identity of the victims.

PFAW