Congress created the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 in order to protect survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA was reauthorized twice, each time with bipartisan support. The bill was then reintroduced in April 2012 by the United States Senate to include protections for immigrants, Native Americans, and same-sex relationships.
However, the House version of the bill was stripped of these revisions. The House passed its version of the revised legislation on May 16. Under the House’s version of VAWA, those in the aforementioned categories, such as immigrants, are not protected. Many who do not support the reauthorization of VAWA are focused on budget cuts and are concerned with spending their taxpayers’ dollars appropriately. For them, domestic violence did not make the cut in the budget.
What does this mean for immigrants facing abuse? Under the House version of VAWA, immigrant women will not be protected from their abuser. For undocumented immigrants, more fear is and will continue to be created around interactions with the police. Women who are undocumented are very likely not to call the police when being abused and mistreated because not only is there no protection for them, but it also could put their living in the United States in jeopardy. In those states where Arizona-type laws have passed, the women who call regarding domestic violence could be asked to show their papers if they are suspected to be undocumented. But then again, what does undocumented even look like? Additionally, women who are undocumented and not authorized to work or obtain a license have very few options when it comes to leaving a partner because they are most likely not economically stable. The Senate version of the bill would have still given immigrant women protection under the law, but instead the House bill wipes away any safety that they would have had. For those who are documented and, for example, married to a citizen, their immigration status could be compromised if separated from their spouse.
The House bill takes those who are already marginalized in society and continues to strip them of essential protections. This bill continues to stigmatize these specific populations and lacks support for certain minority groups. If the budget cuts were to affect the existence of women’s shelters and other places for support and refuge, a woman could be faced with either staying in a violent household or potentially be homeless. Regardless of a woman’s position in society, citizenship status, or family situation, all women should have equal and just protection from these harmful situations.
Elizabeth Murray, a native of Johns Creek, GA, is a first year Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School. She graduated in May of 2011 from the University of South Carolina with a business degree. Elizabeth is a certified candidate for ordained elders orders in the United Methodist Church. She plans to go into social justice ministry.
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