To every immigrant, nothing rings more true than the words of the Emma Lazarus Poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And nothing exemplifies the meaning of such words more than the actions taken by the Senate this week in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate did the right thing in continuing to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – abused women and children. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders still haven’t signaled what they plan to do.
The bill passed the Senate 78 to 22. Among the Senators voted against VAWA reauthorization were Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FLA). Senators Graham and Rubio are members of the “Gang of Eight” who have offered a bipartisan framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.. Sen. Grassley tried to push amendments to VAWA that would have undermined the protections for victims of domestic violence. Thankfully, his harmful amendments did not get into the final bill, but there is a risk they will reappear when the House takes up the measure.
VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation first enacted in 1994 to improve responses to violence against women—including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It was later reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. VAWA made it clear that that our society would no longer tolerate crimes of violence against women, children and the elderly. VAWA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, yet it took Congress two more years to act.
The 1994 VAWA included provisions to allow immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse or parent through a process called “self-petitioning.” The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) created new forms of immigration relief for immigrant victims of violent crime – the U visas and victims of sexual assault or trafficking – the T visas. Finally, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 expanded these protections and included some victims of elder abuse. It is important to note that the 2013 Senate bill does not create any new immigration benefits yet it makes important improvements to the VAWA immigration protections. Some of the noteworthy ones are, for example, preventing children listed in their parent’s U visas applications from “aging-out” – that means protecting them, even if they turn 21 years of age before the application is adjudicated. It also adds “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by the U visa which is a critical law enforcement tool.
The 2013 VAWA Senate bill also provides for vital disclosures regarding any violent criminal histories of sponsoring U.S. fiancé(e)s /spouses and other safeguards to give foreign fiancé(e)s/ spouses of U.S. citizens information they need to protect themselves from entering abusive marriages. Significantly, the 2013 VAWA Senate reauthorization bill strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence ensuring that all programs receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It explicitly includes the LGBT community in its grant program, which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. The bill also establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Republican House of Representatives has an opportunity to protect America’s women and children by passing the Senate’s reauthorized VAWA bill. Protection of victims of domestic violence deserves bipartisan support that will ring true to the principles and legacy of our founding fathers – and as President Obama declared in his State of the Union address: “Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.” This includes the freedom from abuse and fear.
Now is the time to seek bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) can make history by reauthorizing VAWA so that Lady Liberty may continue to stand tall…
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”