Tucson, Ariz. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today questioned House Republicans’ motives for weakening several provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which comes up for reauthorization in the House on Wednesday. The House Republican version rolls back existing protections for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and strips provisions in the Senate version that protect Native Americans and LGBT abuse victims.
“Republicans have decided to use this non-partisan issue to push their war on women further than many of us thought possible,” Grijalva said. “This new bill says that if a Native American or immigrant– documented or not – is the victim of abuse, the government should turn a blind eye. This is a cold, heartless vision of what law enforcement means to the American people, and it’s hard to find words strong enough to reject it.”
The House bill eliminates an existing confidentiality clause known as the self-petitioning process that allows abused women to apply confidentially, if appropriate, for protected immigration status. If the clause is removed from current law, women legally in the country because of a pending marriage who suffer abuse would not be able to keep their applications for permanent status private from their abusers. Boyfriends or husbands would be able to revoke the citizenship application, making the abused woman revert to undocumented status and limiting her legal options.
“Men shouldn’t be able to abuse women and control their access to law enforcement at the same time,” Grijalva said. “This is a scary scenario that we shouldn’t even have to contemplate. Women should never hear, ‘Go to the police and I’ll have you deported,’ but the House bill makes it almost a certainty.”
Currently, federal and state law enforcement officers have exclusive authority to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence crimes committed by non-Indians on Tribal lands, many of which are known to go unprosecuted for logistical and other reasons. The Senate VAWA reauthorization bill lets Tribal law enforcement exercise jurisdiction over such cases, while the House version maintains the status quo.
“The unfortunate legal status of abused Native women has been ignored for far too long,” Grijalva said. “The law should protect all women from abuse, wherever they live. Republicans found an awful lot of nerve to deny equal protection to millions of Native American women for no reason I can tell.”
The Senate version includes a provision that helps colleges and universities increase violence-prevention education and reduce dating abuse and sexual assault. The House version does not include that language. The Senate version prevents any entity that receives federal anti-abuse grants from turning away LGBT victims when they have suffered from domestic violence or abuse. The House version is silent on the issue.
According to a National Network to End Domestic Violence report, “Domestic violence impacts one in four American women over their lifetimes, and 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence each year. Victims rely on services to escape violence and rebuild their lives. When victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking take the difficult step to reach out for help, many are in life-threatening situations and must be able to find immediate refuge.”