On September 13, 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act (Title IV, §§40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994; Public Law 103-322). The aim of the Act was to fund investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women, to impose automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allow civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. The Act also provided “anonymity to victims of domestic abuse who are applying for residency visas so that their applications cannot be sabotaged by their alleged abusers.” Also, to encourage cooperation with law enforcement officials, witnesses are provided with an opportunity to apply for special residency, and eventually permanent residence. The Act has already been renewed twice, with bipartisan support.
However, the last Bill authorizing the continuation of the Act expired in 2011. The Senate has approved a Bill expanded protections for lesbians, immigrants and Native Americans and passed with bipartisan support with a vote of 68-31. However, on Wednesday the House of Representatives passed their version of the Bill, stripping away the protections for immigrants who are subjected to such violence or who witness such acts of violence. Some feel the House Bill will discourage immigrant women from reporting abuse for fear of being deported. At the same time, the House Bill also makes it more difficult for Native American women to seek justice against their abusers; the House version also provides no protection for the LGBT community.
As for the elimination of protections for immigrant women, it is argued that this may be the only way to prevent fraud and abuse of the system by women seeking citizenship in the United States. However, it is countered that all visa applications from immigrant victims already go through extensive review and require extensive documentation.
With such limitations put in place by the House of Representatives, the Violence Against Women Act will cease to protect women from abuse as the original Act intended. The House ignores the needs of immigrant women, Native Americans and the LGBT community, classes of women that need at least the same protection as all other female citizens. And the justification of preventing fraud by immigrant women seems unfounded; this Act has already been renewed twice without previous Congresses feeling the need to add such limitations, and safeguards are already in place in the visa process to reduce the risk of fraud. It is believed that the House version of this Bill will be vetoed without removing the restrictions, restoring the Act to its original intentions. Whether through veto or other manner, hopefully the House and Senate can reach agreement on renewing the Act in a way that will ensure protection for all.