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GOP's change of heart on domestic-abuse bill not enough

May 16, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), left, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), members of the House Judiciary Committee, discuss the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), left, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), members… (Susan Walsh / Associated…)

The House GOP appears to have had a last-minute change of heart Wednesday, voting to restore some protections to a bill that helps victims of domestic abuse.

Last week, the GOP-led Judiciary Committee approved a measure that called for changing the Violence Against Women Act, including eliminating protections for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. Enacted in 1994, the act has been reauthorized twice with broad bipartisan support.

The law allows an immigrant who is married to a U.S. citizen or green-card holder -- and therefore eligible to stay in the United States -- to file independently without having to rely on an abusive spouse.

Until now, victims could file their applications confidentially to prevent retaliation from their abuser. But the Judiciary Committee's version of the bill that passed last week rolled back that protection. The committee had also moved to limit visas issued to victims of certain serious crimes. Known as U visas, these can ultimately lead to a green card if a victim cooperates with the investigation and prosecution. The visas have long had the support of law enforcement groups.

The final bill approved by the full House, however, restored the confidentiality protections for domestic-abuse victims but did not reauthorize the previous U-visa program and instead put in serious restrictions.

No doubt, the House bill will fuel anger among women, not to mention immigrant and human rights groups.

The timing of the bill is interesting. Human Rights Watch released a report Wednesday that found female farmworkers in the United States are at high risk of sexual attack or harassment in the fields. The study found that farmworkers who were abused face serious hurdles in obtaining justice, in large part because of their immigration status. At least 50% of agricultural workers are believed to be in the country illegally.

The report said those female farmworkers fear a complaint or police report could result in deportation.

No doubt, U visas were considered a very helpful tool to encourage those female farmworkers to step forward.

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