05/18/2012

House Bill Rewards Anti-Immigrant and Misogynist Groups to the Detriment of Immigrant Women

In an incredibly callous move earlier this week, lawmakers in the U.S. House passed a bill that stands to roll back important provisions of the Violence Against Women Act, which would leave immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault even more vulnerable to abuse.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), enacted in 1994 in a truly bipartisan effort, is the primary federal law providing legal protection and services to victims of domestic abuse.

VAWA funds have been used to train over half a million law enforcement personnel every year, support rape crisis centers in every state, afford temporary housing for domestic violence survivors, fund programs that reduce homicides, and address the particular challenges faced by immigrant victims.

VAWA has had nearly two decades of continued and bipartisan support each time it was reauthorized – until now.

Sadly, the current anti-immigrant fervor in our country seems to have de-sensitized some politicians to the point that even victims of violence are in danger of losing protection. Misogynist groups, including Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, are among those spreading misinformation and encouraging elected officials to preserve their own interests – at the cost of safety for immigrant women.

The bill from the House, where the GOP is the majority and the vote split largely on party lines, eviscerates key protections in VAWA offered in the earlier Senate version, which got bipartisan support, including every female Republican.

The House expressly rejects protections for men and women who are gay, lesbian or transgender, eliminates justice for women and children who are beaten or abused on Native American lands by perpetrators who are not tribe members.

And, it places new limits on temporary visas for undocumented immigrants who work with investigators to bring assailants to justice. The bill also threatens to erode confidentiality protections that currently help keep victims safe.

Without these safeguard provisions, victims will be too afraid to come forward and report the horrendous crimes they are forced to endure. Ultimately, perpetrators will go unpunished and will be free to continue to terrorize their victims.

Abusers consider immigrant women to be “perfect victims” because they often don’t speak English, are perceived to lack immigration status, don’t know their rights, and are sometimes extremely isolated. This bill, HR 4970, would give such perpetrators a green light to continue terrorizing them.

But no one, regardless of immigration status, deserves to be emotionally or physically abused or otherwise victimized.

Hopefully, reason and the original Senate bill that widens protections for those most in need, will prevail.

If the House version becomes law, it will be a gift to anti-immigrant and misogynist groups from lawmakers that support this version. It threatens to leave immigrant women who are already vulnerable even more exposed and unprotected.

Until this week, both houses of Congress had demonstrated an understanding that all perpetrators – not just some – must be held accountable and that all victims – not just some – must be afforded protection.

With so much hanging in the balance, legislators in the House still have a chance to fix the harm that could be wrought by HR 4970 by working with members of the Senate to put forth a real reauthorization bill; one that advances, not diminishes, victims’ rights.

It is time for them to stand against the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become commonplace in our society. It is time for them to show real leadership and renew their commitment to protect all victims of abuse.