Monday, May 14, 2012

Remember when most people agreed that violence against women was a bad thing?

Way back in 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act through a bipartisan effort led by Vice-President Joe Biden, then a Senator from Delaware. VAWA was the culmination of sustained advocacy from the domestic violence community and law enforcement allies, and provided for critical protections and services for victims of domestic violence.

Since then, VAWA has always received broad bipartisan support. VAWA has also always included protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, because, as we all know, abusers of immigrant victims often exploit the victims’ immigration status to intimidate them and prevent them from reaching out to law enforcement or service providers.

Periodically, VAWA must be reauthorized, and this was accomplished without significant incident in 2000 and 2005.  Unfortunately, something is different this year and we are now faced with some of the most dangerous and life-threatening revisions to this law since it was first enacted.

The first bill drafted by the Senate, S. 1925, represents the true and original spirit of VAWA, and it proposes modest expansions of the law to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence, such as LGBTQ and immigrant victims.  Domestic violence advocates and experts are calling this version “the REAL VAWA.”

Now, however, some House Republicans are opposing S. 1925, and have proposed an alternative bill, H.R. 4970, also known as the Adams bill. Under the guise of “fraud prevention” (without any existing evidence of systemic fraud), they not only oppose these changes, but they also want to gut existing provisions that have been critical to helping battered immigrants move from violence to safety.

  • HR 4970 eliminates crucial confidentiality protections for victims, allowing abusers to continue to manipulate the immigration process as a tool of abuse by providing them an opportunity to block her access to legal status
  •  HR 4970 discourages crime victims from cooperating with law enforcement, especially in complex or dangerous criminal investigations or prosecutions, and eliminates stability for vulnerable crime victims by terminating their eligibility for permanent residence
  •  HR 4970 omits critical amendments that were included in S. 1925 to prevent serial abuse and exploitation of so-called “mail-order brides” and other immigrating foreign spouses and fiancĂ©(e)s of US citizens, as well as abuse of the visa system.
There is an interesting point about the fraud allegations.  It appears that the leader of an advocacy group called SAVE, which supports the House bill to “curb VAWA immigration fraud,” also has a strong financial interest in keeping immigrant victims of domestic violence vulnerable. Natasha Spivack, the treasurer of SAVE, also owned a for-profit internet marriage brokerage, Encounters International.  According to the Huffington Post, “one of the Russian brides matched by Encounters International sued the firm, claiming that she was beaten by her American husband, that the company failed to properly screen candidates and neglected to tell her about a law allowing immigrants to escape abusive marriages without fear of automatic deportation. A jury decided in favor of the Russian bride and awarded her $434,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The case was affirmed upon appeal.” For more details about this case, click here.

Let's not get distracted from the importance of passing this life-saving legislation for victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence experts, law enforcement officials, and community members all agree that the Adams bill, H.R. 4970, will be a threat to the safety of vulnerable victims of domestic violence across the country.  S. 1925 is the REAL VAWA.  

To take action, visit and tell your representatives that a vote for H.R. 4970 is a vote AGAINST VAWA.

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