May 4, 2012 - For nearly three decades, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has provided essential protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Yet the U.S. House VAWA reauthorization bill (HR 4970), sponsored by U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Central Florida, now threatens to undermine these crucial protections and put vulnerable victims at greater risk of horrific abuse, if not death.
This bill would virtually eliminate immigration relief for many domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Among other things, it would:
* Require abuse victims seeking a U Visa to report the crime within 60 days of
* Require the statute of limitations for the prosecution of the crime has not lapsed
* Require the criminal activity be “actively” under investigation or being prosecuted
* No longer allow U Visa recipients to apply for permanent residence
* Notify the abuser that a petition for relief has been filed by the victim, so that the abuser
can participate in the process.
Eliminating confidentiality for VAWA self-petitioners undermines the purpose of VAWA protections at their core. Vulnerable victims will rarely report abuse or seek help when the abuser threatens to get them deported. Nor will they come forward if they suspect the abuser will discover her attempt to gain legal status and break with the relationship.
Michelle Ortiz, director of Americans for Immigrant Justice’s (AI Justice) Lucha Project, provides free legal help to victims. She said, “I can’t think of a single AI Justice client who would move forward with a VAWA petition to legalize their status if their confidentiality were not protected. That is usually the first question a prospective client asks us: ‘Can he find out about the self-petition?’”
Equally disturbing, abusers would know who is providing legal help to their victim, putting those lawyers at risk and having a chilling effect on victim’s access to legal assistance. “Even now, with confidentiality safeguards in place, our staff has been personally threatened by abusers,” said Susana Barciela, AI Justice’s Policy Director. “I can only imagine how much worse it would be if this bill were to pass.”
Adds Michelle Ortiz, “A requirement that the crime be reported within 60 days and the case be currently open puts prosecutors in an untenable position. They have legitimate concerns about filing a U-visa while prosecution is pending because it gives ammunition to defendants to challenge victims credibility.”
The U.S. House should mirror the much better version of the VAWA bill (S 1925) already approved by the U.S. Senate.
Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) has been fighting for the American dream since its founding in 1996. One of the nation’s largest non-profit immigration law firms, AI Justice represents vulnerable immigrants at no charge. This direct service work informs its broader policy work. AI Justice influences national policy; successfully litigates or otherwise challenges patterns of abuse; and educates the public about the impact immigration laws and directives have on our communities. AI Justice is dedicated to protecting and promoting the basic human rights of immigrants. Please visit www.aijustice.org for more information.