In Latest VAWA Legislation, House Republicans Go After Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors, Crime Victims

In Latest VAWA Legislation, House Republicans Go After Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors, Crime Victims

Last month, our office was thrilled to receive a USCIS notice that one of clients from Mexico, a homeless victim of domestic violence, rape and kidnapping, would receive a four-year U visa, and in three years would be allowed to apply for her green card. It's cases like this that makes me grateful to be an immigration lawyer, and to live in a country that can be so humane to immigrant victims of violent crimes, thanks to laws like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

VAWA is set to expire this September 2012 however. Since 1994, extending this law has never been controversial. That is, until now. On May 17, 2012, House Republicans passed H.R. 4970, legislation that would extend only a shell of this critical legislation that has saved numerous lives. Now is the time to tell Congress it must keep VAWA's legal protections in place.

VAWA has been an essential legal tool to protect non-citizen domestic violence survivors and crime victims, by providing them with a path to legal U.S. residency without the need of an abusive citizen or legal resident petitioner, or the fear of deportation by reporting crimes to the police.

The House bill undermines many of VAWA's key protections. Under VAWA, an immigrant who is the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen or legal resident spouse is allowed to file her own immigration petition without the help of the abusive spouse.

H.R. 4970 will make this protection harder and more dangerous to obtain. Under the House bill, immigration officers could demand that applicants meet an even higher standard of proof to show abuse, higher even than the standard in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Worse, H.R. 4970 allows USCIS officers to contact the abuser to ask him whether the victim is telling the truth. This is absurd. By tipping off perpetrators of domestic abuse, the law would actually put victims' lives in danger from abusers with a history of violence.

The assault on U visas for victims of violent crimes is just as troubling. U visas would lose protection from deportation after four years under H.R. 4970, as immigrant crime victims would lose the opportunity to apply for a green card. This would make it nearly impossible for immigrants to get their lives back together after being the victim of a serious violent or sexual crime. Even worse, with little incentive for crime victims to report illegal activity, more criminals would be on the street, making our communities less safe.

Fortunately, the Senate has passed a competing bill, S.1925. This bill maintains and expands the traditional protections set for domestic violence survivors and crime victims. The competing bills will now be negotiated for a final vote on a reconciled bill in conference committee, sometime before the end of this Congressional session.

Don't let H.R. 4970 stand. Contact your local congressional representative's office and let them now that you demand that domestic violence survivors and crime victims get the protection they deserve.


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