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House Bill on Violence Would Hand Power to Abusers of Immigrant Women and Allow Criminal Prosecution of Victims

11:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Mony Ruiz-Velasco for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center provides legal services under the Violence Against Women Act to hundreds of victims and their children each year. We are appalled at the immigration provisions that the judiciary committee in the House of Representatives passed in HR4970. This bill erodes protections available to immigrant victims.

Photo by epsos.de

Abusers frequently use immigration status as a weapon against their undocumented victims by threatening to have the victim deported or refusing to complete an application for status. A VAWA self-petition allows a victim of violence to apply for lawful status on her own behalf, without relying on her abusive spouse, if she can show that she has been a victim of violence at the hands of her husband who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. HR4970 eliminates important confidentiality protections that are critical to ensure the victims’ safety. Immigration officials would notify abusers that the victim is seeking protection from the abuse. This is particularly dangerous for victims who are still living with their abusers or have children, as many immigrant victims have very limited options to leave an abusive situation until they obtain legal status. To seek protection, the victim will also reveal her whereabouts even if she managed to escape.

In addition, HR4970 would make a major change to how these applications are processed. HR4970 decentralizes the processing of these applications and gives local immigration offices authority to adjudicate VAWA petitions. For many years now, VAWA adjudications are centralized in the Vermont Service Center. Staff in Vermont receive extensive and highly specialized training on domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking and are trained to adjudicate petitions filed by victims without re-traumatizing the victims.  Local district offices are ill equipped to handle these highly sensitive cases. Proposed changes in HR4970 are detrimental to immigrant victims.

Finally, HR4970 ignores the dearth of access to legal counsel and language barriers many immigrant victims of violence face and exacts severe punishment for anyone who makes a mistake in the process. HR4970 raises the standard of proof required to succeed in a VAWA application to a standard higher than has been set for asylum applicants. In addition, if the government finds “material misrepresentation” in an application, the victim and her derivatives, including young children, will be permanently barred from all immigration protections, she will also be referred to the FBI for criminal prosecution, and will be removed on an “expedited basis.” Let me repeat: this bill would criminally prosecute victims of violence who make a mistake on their application for protection. To provide further punishment, applicants’ children also would also be permanently barred from immigration benefits, including prosecutorial discretion and deferred action.

Under these circumstances, as an immigration attorney who has handled hundreds of these cases over more than 15 years, I cannot imagine a situation where I would advise a client to apply for protection under VAWA if HR 4970 becomes the law. The risk to their safety would be too great and they would not be able to achieve permanent protection from dangerous abusers, which will be extremely dangerous.

HR4970 is not VAWA – it is an attack on immigrants, women and in particular, women of color. By passing this bill, Congress is abandoning thousands of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking and leaving them vulnerable to further abuse and harm.

VAWA Saved My Life. Now House Republicans Are Pushing For Changes That Will Leave Others Like Me Vulnerable

6:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Erika Anonymous for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Photo by Tom Godber

My name is Erika.  I came to the United States with my parents when I was six years old and I have been here ever since.

I have lived in fear for most of my life because of my ex-husband. We met as high school freshmen in Chicago. Our relationship was rocky from the beginning and he became more controlling and possessive over the years. But when he joined the Marines after high school, things seemed to change for a while. He apologized for the way he acted and promised to treat me with respect.

After we got married, he became worse than ever. He came home drunk and assaulted me. He would lock me in the house all day when he was at work, even though I was caring for our infant son. When he would come home, he would bring many friends and drink all night. When I told him he needed to stop drinking or I would leave, he shoved me against a wall and swung to punch me. I ducked, so he hit wall instead. When he was deployed to Iraq, he was supposed to put money into a bank account for our family, but he put most of his money in a separate account and left me without access to it. Even though he was making money, because I was undocumented, I was unable to earn money to feed my children and I had to ask my parents to buy us food. After he returned from Iraq, he began having relationships with other women, sometimes in front of me.  Eventually, I reached out for help and I left.

I would have lived in fear my whole life without protection under the Violence Against Women Act. I now have lawful status and a job as an office manager. I can do anything now. I am not afraid that my ex-husband will take my children away from me or have me deported, as he threatened to do before. I have high hopes for the future. I want to go back to school to study culinary arts, and because of VAWA, I can reach for that goal.

But my ex-husband would have done anything in his power to prevent me from getting legal status. He would have lied and denied that he was abusing me. Even as I was going through the application process, he threatened to kill me. If he found out about my VAWA application, I truly believe that he would have acted on his threats. The proposed VAWA bill, which requires immigration officials to interview the abusers, is dangerous. The government cannot let abusers continue to have control. The government is supposed to protect victims. VAWA saved my life, and I hope it is left as it is now so it can continue to save other women in dangerous situations.

Republican Partisan Bill H.R. 4970 Will Make Life More Difficult for Domestic Abuse Victims

6:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rep. Jan Schakowsky for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Congresswoman Schakowsky delivered these remarks on a call with reporters and others last week. Her comments are reprinted here with permission.

I want to thank the National Immigrant Justice Center and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence for organizing this very important call this morning.

Immigrant women at a protest. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

Immigrant women at a protest. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

I appreciate the particular focus on the VAWA provisions that protect battered immigrant women – one of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable populations in our country.

Ensuring that immigrant women are able to leave their abusers and aren’t forced to stay because of threats of deportation, or because they are afraid to come out of the shadows has been a long-time focus of mine.

During past VAWA reauthorizations, I have gotten provisions to stop the deportation of eligible immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking included, as well as a provision to allow battered immigrant self-petitioners to receive their lawful permanent residency status in the U.S. without having to travel abroad.

I have introduced – along with Representative Judy Chu – the Violence Against Immigrant Women Act (H.R. 5331).  Our bill would streamline the processing of VAWA cases and make adjustments to help victims escape from their abusers and overcome the effects of victimization.  Our bill would ensure greater numbers of immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault receive U visa protection, and it would allow victims of stalking, elder abuse, and child abuse to access these important protections.  It would also require DHS to issue employment authorization to victims in timely manner.  Because of delays, the majority of immigrant victims who have filed valid cases are forced to wait more than six months for work authorization, some can wait as long as a year.

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