Bill Holston and Chris Mansour co-wrote an editorial for the Dallas Morning News:
Published: 23 May 2012 11:27 PM
Since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has enjoyed bipartisan support. It has long been recognized as a law-enforcement tool, helping the most vulnerable victims of abuse and violent crime, undocumented women and children.
On May 16, the House passed an extension of the act that dramatically reduces the protection afforded to abused immigrants. It is substantially different from the Senate version, which continues the important protections for survivors of abuse and crime. This bill takes a law that has operated successfully and complicates it. It does so at the expense of vulnerable victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and violent crime.
HR 4970 practically destroys the U Visa. The U Visa allows victims of violent crime to petition for immigration status if they assist law enforcement with the apprehension and prosecution of the offender. The law encourages society’s most marginalized crime victims to come forward without fear of deportation so that police can do their jobs and catch criminals. Law enforcement must sign a certification indicating the crime and how the U Visa applicant was helpful. With the certification, and if the applicant meets other requirements, he or she is granted a U Visa for four years, and, under current law, can apply for a green card.
The House bill allows successful U Visa applicants to apply for a green card only if the perpetrator of the crime is from the victim’s home country and has been deported. In all other cases, the victims would now be in jeopardy of being deported at the end of their U Visa status. This renders the U Visa meaningless. If reporting a crime will eventually end in deportation, victims are unlikely to reach out to police.
HR 4970 requires that the crime be under active investigation or prosecution at the time of law-enforcement certification. Law enforcement often is reluctant to sign off until after a case is closed, to be sure that the victim’s testimony is not suspect because of any promise of immigration status.
The House bill changes the VAWA self-petitioning process for immigrants who are married to abusive U.S. citizens or green-card holders. These women are eligible to apply for immigration status because of their marriage; however, many abusers use the woman’s undocumented status as a tool in the cycle of abuse. They refuse to apply for their spouses and threaten to call immigration on their undocumented wives. VAWA allows these women to apply on their own for a status that they would have obtained but for the abuse, and escape their abusive marriages.
HR 4970 adds the inefficient and expensive step of a personal interview at the local office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Previously, the petitions were investigated and adjudicated in Vermont, where the immigration agents are specially trained in the VAWA law and in the effects of domestic violence and sexual assault. Under the proposed law, battered women would be interviewed by immigration agents who may not understand the cycle of violence many victims endure.
The investigating officer would be allowed to consider evidence submitted by the batterer as well as whether police investigated the abuse or the prosecutor pressed charges. Prosecutor’s offices do not press charges for a whole host of reasons, including lack of resources or an inability to find the abuser. The process would be longer and more expensive because the local investigative officer would have to report to the officer in Vermont who makes the final determination. If an investigation or prosecution against the batterer is pending, the decision on the VAWA petition is also stayed.
Congress can right this wrong, by putting politics aside and working out a compromise bill to extend protections that have been in place since 1994. Lives are at stake.
Bill Holston, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, and Chris Mansour, legal director of the organization, may be contacted at bholston@ hrionline.org and firstname.lastname@example.org.