VAWA must protect all victims

The House and Senate versions of VAWA are largely similar, but at the center of the controversy are three brand new proposals the Senate included in its reauthorization. These added provisions veer from VAWA’s original intent, as well as past reauthorizations.
 

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The first of these three provisions would give sovereign Native American tribes potentially unconstitutional jurisdiction by allowing their courts to try non-Indians. While no one disputes that Native American victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking need help and that their assaulters should be prosecuted, it should be done within the bounds of the Constitution.
 
Rather than trying to implement unconstitutional provisions, the House-passed bill designates domestic violence tribal liaisons within the U.S. Attorney’s Offices. The liaison would serve as a direct link between the U.S. Attorneys charged with prosecuting non-Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands, and Native American criminal justice systems.  Additionally, the House bill allows Native American victims of domestic violence or stalking to get a restraining order against their abuser in a federal district court. 
 
The second addition included in the Senate bill sets aside specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of abuse. While I agree that these individuals should have access to VAWA services, I disagree with the Senate’s approach which pits victim against victim. I believe all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking should be protected equally. This is why my bill includes language that specifically states, “No person in any State shall on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability be denied the assistance of, or excluded from receiving services from a grantee under, any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act.” 
 
Finally, the Senate-passed bill disregards the fact that some immigration programs historically included in VAWA reauthorization legislation have been subject to fraud and abuse. The House-passed legislation allows illegal immigrants who apply for and receive a U-visa to stay in the United States to get the care and resources they need after being victimized by a criminal, while at the same time ensuring that the illegal immigrant works with law enforcement officials and prosecutors to put their perpetrators in jail. 
 
However, the bill does not give them the right to permanent residence, unless the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crime, and are deported to the U-visa holders’ home country. Under these new requirements, the U-visa will no longer grant amnesty to illegal immigrants simply because they claim to have been the victim of a crime. My bill also guarantees the confidentiality of a self-petitioning immigrant who has been abused, and unlike the Senate bill, strengthens anti-fraud protections to ensure that victims – instead of perpetrators of fraud – receive the resources and benefits they need.
 
The bottom line is that the best approach for dealing with VAWA is to ensure that all victims of abuse have access to care. The focus should be centered on the victims, and providing the means to prosecute the abuser and educate the public in order to prevent violence in the future. My bill is consistent with the reauthorizations of the past and best serves the victims who need help.
 
While the Senate’s legislation faces a “blue slip” problem, I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to put politics aside, and take up the House’s legislation so we can work out our differences and reauthorize this lifesaving legislation. 

Rep. Adams (R-Fla.) is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.