Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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|Violence Against Women Act
(VAWA) under attack
By Heidi M. Pascual
Our country has progressed so much in the last 15 years or so, as far as protecting women against domestic
violence and crime. Through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, a landmark legislation, criminal
justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, sexual assault and related crimes greatly
improved. At long last, the American society has now understood the need to address these crimes that
traditionally had left victims to suffer in silence. VAWA also fostered protections for battered immigrant women and
provided a closer look at our Native populations who suffer the same fate.
The original VAWA was further improved in 2000 under the Battered Women Protection Act, when the U.S. Congress
identified dating violence and stalking as added related crimes; created a legal assistance program for victims; and
protected immigrant victims by establishing U and T visas. U visas (effective up to four years) are granted to
noncitizen crime victims assisting in the prosecution of a criminal offense, and later are given work permits. T visas
are granted to victims of severe forms of human trafficking, and who receive similar benefits as refugees. Then in
2005, more enhancements to VAWA were created to include immigration protections to victims, expanded services
to include children and teens, and provided federal funding for rape crisis centers.
In 2012, however, instead of improving further the VAWA provisions to add provisions that might have been left out in
the past, the GOP-controlled U.S. Congress — via the Cantor/Adams VAWA reauthorization bill — now seeks to
repeal protections for battered immigrant women, LGBT victims, and Tribal victims. A tri-caucus conference of the
Asian Pacific American, Black and Hispanic Congressional Caucuses was held May 16 to express strong
opposition against this bill. The Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) said that this bill was
drafted without input from service providers, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, and would therefore
create a more dangerous environment for immigrant women. This bill actually erases the path toward citizenship
for holders of U visas, and imposes hurdles that would discourage self-petition for relief by victims.
This bill – H.R. 4970-- passed the House on May 17th.
What a legal injustice for victims of violence in the immigrant community!!
I am reminded of the brutal slaying of a woman of color in my neighborhood a few years ago. She was killed by her
boyfriend who had promised her marriage to legalize her stay in the U.S. I learned from some people that the
woman suffered from domestic violence for several years, and that she couldn’t report to authorities her problem
because she was scared to be deported, a threat her boyfriend repeatedly pounded into her head. She left behind
two small children whose future became bleaker with their mom’s death.
There are thousands more cases that aren’t reported for similar immigration reasons, and sometimes, for cultural
reasons, as well. Some cultures frown on women who come out in the open about being battered by their spouses.
To them, sweeping the domestic problem under the rug and keeping the family together are honorable virtues of a
woman. They hate rape crisis centers, domestic abuse services, and related community agencies. It would seem
that this current bill caters to this abhorrent form of conservatism.
I join the Tri-Caucus members in U.S. Congress and the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing
Justice) that strongly condemn the approval of this VAWA authorization bill. I am extremely disappointed that our
GOP legislators in D.C. are willing to place women and children at risk in the name of a tougher immigration policy.
In a statement, Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of APALC, said, “The Asian American and Pacific
Islander communities, which include more than five million immigrant women, support a robust VAWA that protects
all women. We cannot go backwards on this important issue.”
I applaud all the groups that expressed their opposition to H.R. 4970. I hope that as the U.S. Senate and the House
move forward to reconcile the Senate and House versions, the final bill would keep VAWA as strong as possible for
all women, especially for immigrant women who continuously suffer in silence.