Strong VAWA protections are win-win for crime victims and law enforcement

VAWA, as it is currently written, provides critical protections for survivors of domestic violence and crime, including immigrant victims who may otherwise fear coming forward due to their status.  Among its provisions is the “U” visa, which provides immigrant victims with the opportunity to live and work safely without fear of deportation. The U visa provision is a “win-win” for all stakeholders: It helps law enforcement prosecute serious crimes, including rape, sexual assault, labor trafficking, and involuntary servitude; and it encourages the victims of crimes to come forward.
 

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Take Louisa, a housekeeper who endured repeated sexual and physical assault by her employer, who threatened to have her deported if she reported the abuse. She was terrified to come forward, and only reported what had happened after she left her job. Or take Maria, a cleaner at a motel, who endured repeated sexual assault by her manager, and who was fired after complaining to her employer. (Names have been changed to protect the women’s privacy.)
 
These brave women decided to hold their employers accountable only after they learned that they would have protection under the U visa. Today, they continue to rebuild their lives after suffering trauma and abuse. The House proposal would end this virtuous circle.
 
House Republicans argue that their bill makes enforcement “smarter.” But the bill undermines both VAWA’s law enforcement and humanitarian goals.  Among other things, it would require victims to report the crime within 60 days, even though we know that victims often need much more time to work up the courage to come forward. It would even allow abusive partners in domestic violence cases to provide input as to whether their victim should qualify for immigration relief. The more onerous you make it on victims to come forward, the less likely that they will, and the more likely that abuse will continue.
 
In prior reauthorizations of VAWA, Congress saw no reason to water down critical protections for women and victims of crime. Let’s not turn a win-win situation into a lose-lose for law enforcement and victims alike. The Senate has reached a sensible, bipartisan solution to providing much-needed protection without endangering our families and communities. Let’s hope that the House can do the same.
 
Eunice Cho is a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project’s Immigrant Worker Justice Project, and runs the blog www.immigrantworkerjustice.org.