Chris Mansour and Bill Holston: Time running out for Violence Against Women Act
One of our immigrant clients at Human Rights Initiative, Lisa, was raped by her stepfather for more than a year, starting when she was 9 years old. When he was finally caught, she courageously told the police what he had done to her, even though she was terrified that he would make good on his threats to kill her mother if she reported him. Now her stepfather is in jail and Lisa is a permanent U.S. resident who is attending college and hopes to be a pediatrician, a veterinarian or a police officer.
Lisa’s story of survival and justice would not have been possible without the Violence Against Women Act, which provides U visas for immigrants who are victims of violent crimes and cooperate with law enforcement to prosecute the perpetrator. This law, which has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since 1994, should have been reauthorized months ago, but has sat stalled in Congress since last spring because the Senate and U.S. House passed different versions of the bill.
On Nov. 14, Human Rights Initiative, along with a national coalition of organizations that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, participated in a VAWA National Day of Action, which invited our fellow citizens to call their senators and representatives to ask them to pass VAWA now.
But Congress remains at an impasse, and it is not even clear that VAWA is being seriously considered right now. Please urge Congress to do the right thing and pass the Senate’s version of the bill before Congress’ session ends Dec. 14. At the very least, Congress should put politics aside and work out in conference committee a bill that extends protection to some of the most vulnerable people in our country, immigrant victims of domestic violence and violent crime.
The House version of the bill dramatically reduces the protections afforded to abused immigrants. It practically destroys the U visa by greatly limiting the circumstances in which the cooperating victim can be eligible for a green card. The House bill also complicates the VAWA self-petitioning process for battered spouses of U.S. citizens and green card holders. These women are eligible to apply for immigration status based on marriage; however, many abusers use the woman’s illegal status as a tool in the cycle of abuse and prevent that from happening. Permitting these brave women to petition for relief without the spouse’s cooperation removes that leverage and breaks the cycle of abuse.
Human Rights Initiative supports the Senate version of VAWA, which continues the important protections for survivors of abuse and crime, not just in the immigration context but for all women, including many marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Making matters worse for domestic violence survivors is the fiscal cliff. If Congress fails to act, sequestration could result in nearly 200,000 fewer victims receiving lifesaving and cost-effective services.
This is a matter of international interest. Nov. 25 was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. As many as a quarter of all pregnant women are affected.” In 2008, Ban Ki-moon launched the “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” campaign to help prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls across the globe. Their goals include:
Adopting and enforcing national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls.
Adopting and implementing multisectoral national action plans.
Strengthening data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls.
Increasing public awareness and social mobilization.
Addressing sexual violence in conflict.
These goals require laws such as VAWA. Lisa is just one of many women we have helped at Human Rights Initiative who have suffered from violence against women. Please take action today to see that our representatives work to protect these survivors of violence.
For more information, go to 4vawa.org.
Chris Mansour is legal director of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Holston is executive director of the organization and may be contacted at email@example.com.
Originally posted in The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, December 6, 2012.