Last Friday, President Obama courageously announced that it would no longer be the policy of the United States to deport young illegal immigrants who came to this country as children years ago through no fault of their own. This announcement brings some measure of justice to a deeply dysfunctional immigration system.
Call it a loophole, tax fraud, or government at its most outrageous, but it’s got to stop.
You should not underestimate the electricity that has gone through immigrant and Hispanic neighborhoods like those in my district in Chicago since President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that they would temporarily protect immigrant youths eligible for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act from deportation. In two month’s time, when the first group of DREAMers comes forward to affirmatively apply for protection from deportation, it will be similar in many ways to how some people felt when same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses or African-Americans were allowed to register to vote in the South.
It’s a story too familiar lately – a young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teenager is the victim of relentless bullying and harassment, sometimes with dire consequences. But as hurtful as words and actions from peers can be to a young person, the harm done by community and government leaders can often be just as bad – if not worse.
There is no more important right in our society than the right to vote – it is the basis of all of our other rights. It is why generations of Americans have fought and died for the right to vote. And as a result of their sacrifices, today government and society as a whole has become more reflective of the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution.
Given the importance of this hard-fought right, the American people deserve an election system that not only protects but enhances every eligible voter’s ability to register, cast a ballot, and participate in our democracy. But rather than improve access to the ballot box, over the past year states have enacted laws which undermine this fundamental right.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed its reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Originally enacted by Congress in 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized twice in the past and has been instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of victims across the country.
As a survivor of domestic violence and former deputy sheriff, I have seen the benefits of VAWA firsthand. For 18 years, VAWA has been successful because it has focused on providing services to all victims, and has not “gone Washington” with carve outs for special interests. My legislation, H.R. 4970, continues that long, all-inclusive history without pitting victim against victim.
Additionally, the House-passed legislation ensures that limited resources go to victims, not Washington bureaucrats. It also streamlines programs that are duplicative and consolidates certain grants, while saving taxpayer dollars. And in an effort to keep perpetrators off the streets and behind bars, it focuses on eliminating the backlog of unprocessed rape kits.
During the recent House floor debate on the Republican Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle questioned my motives for opposing the legislation as grounded in politics. I think it’s time to set the record straight.
The truth is that I refuse to support legislation that would protect only some victims of domestic violence and would make women less safe than they are under current law. This is not about politics, it’s about good policy.
When I helped draft the Violence Against Women Act nearly twenty years ago it was grounded on the bipartisan belief that we should protect all women from sexual and domestic violence, particularly vulnerable minority and immigrant women. Now, behind the veil of reauthorizing certain grant programs, this bill would roll back the very protections that Republicans once championed. Specifically, the bill eliminates provisions that protect immigrant victims of serious crimes, such as trafficking, who want to help law enforcement put dangerous criminals behind bars and it weakens critical and longstanding provisions that allow the battered immigrant spouses of US citizens to escape those abusive relationships and obtain the permanent immigration status to which they are already entitled. These provisions were enacted in past VAWA bills with near-unanimous congressional support.
Throughout the history of our Republic, religious freedom has been one of our nation’s core founding principles and a central part of our American heritage. A key component of that freedom is a respect for the rights of religious people and institutions to practice their faiths without the fear of being compelled to engage in, or support, acts that go against their deeply held religious beliefs. In 1809, Thomas Jefferson rightly said, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority."
Today, this proud tradition, our most cherished freedom is under attack, coming from the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate. This policy would, for the first time in our nation’s history, trample on religious freedom and force, inter alia, religious institutions to violate their own faith, jeopardizing the great work that they do every day serving those in need, regardless of their faith. Fortunately, leaders of all faiths have awakened to the dangerously far-reaching implications of this policy and understand the precedent it will set. Rabbis, priests, ministers, Republicans and Democrats are joining together to oppose this mandate, which would sweep conscience protections of the First Amendment under the rug.
There is a group of criminals, on Native American lands, who assault, rape, and abuse Native women and they can’t be arrested. These criminals are non-Native men. They don’t have to face a judge, spend any time behind bars, or be hounded by a criminal record. Instead they remain free to go after the next victim or the same one, time after time. Congress, the one legal body able to fix this problem, could let these injustices continue if they don’t act.
The epidemic of violence against women on tribal lands is staggering; 34% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, 39% will experience domestic violence, and as a Department of Justice study found, non-Indians commit 88% of these heinous crimes. Tribal justice systems are the most appropriate entities to root out these criminals, yet they are the ones with tied hands—restricted by antiquated jurisdictional laws established the U.S. government limiting tribes from prosecuting non-Native criminals.