This 112th Congress has seen an increasingly alarming number of attacks on women’s rights; from defunding of women’s health, to the fight over Equal Pay. One of the women’s rights battles has been getting much less press, that of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Originally passed in 1994 with broad bi-partisan support, VAWA is set to expire if Congress does not act to renew it. The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of VAWA which now go to a conference committee to be reconciled into identical forms before they head to the President’s desk for signature. Unfortunately, the House version of VAWA includes numerous provisions that will actually decrease protections for battered immigrant women and increase the likelihood that these women will be unable to leave their abusers and suffer even more severe abuse if they do.
One of the most dangerous provisions of the reauthorization act would allow immigration officers at USCIS, the branch of DHS that handles affirmative VAWA applications, to contact the abuser and get his side of the story. A woman is most at risk of being severely battered and even killed when she is trying to escape from her abuser, and USCIS would now be alerting him that she’s attempting gain independence to leave him. Many immigrant women have very little support here in the US and until they are authorized to work would be forced into shelters if they didn’t remain with their abusive partners. These US citizen and legal permanent resident spouses could and should have been petitioning for their partners in the first place. Their refusal to do so is often evidence of the abuse as it allows them to use their partner’s immigration status as a tool to control them and keep them subservient. These women have already taken a risk in starting the process of leaving their partner. That USCIS would take it upon itself to increase the risk of abuse is unconscionable.
These women are fighting hard to escape the cycle of abuse, and the Senate should fight equally as hard in conference to not undermine these important protections.
Here are some links to more information regarding VAWA: