For the first time since the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, was passed in 1994, Congress failed to renew the law that is credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives. VAWA provides important protections for victims of abuse and crime, including special visas for undocumented immigrant women who are often discouraged from reporting abuse because they fear deportation. The measure also sets aside millions to help fund battered-women's shelters, law enforcement and abuse prevention programs.
While both parties are at fault, the bulk of the blame belongs to House Republicans, who have made VAWA a partisan issue even though previous Congresses have twice renewed the law without a fight.
But not this time. In April, the Senate passed its own version of VAWA that preserved programs and extended protections to victims who are lesbian, gay, transgender or who live in tribal areas, where rape has increased 55% from 2000 to 2010, according to federal data. Under current law, tribal courts don’t have the authority to prosecute domestic violence when carried out on tribal land by non-Native Americans.
The House, however, adopted its own version in May that rolled back established programs and stripped away protections for immigrant women, and made it harder for those who are illegally in the country and victims of abuse or crimes to obtain legal status as part of a special program known as the U Visa.In fact, the House bill was so troubling that dozens of groups including the American Bar Assn. and religious groups, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, publicly opposed it.
The House leadership refused to budge, and the Senate insisted existing protections remain in place. An eleventh-hour attempt by Vice President Joe Biden to revive negotiations failed largely because GOP leaders rebuffed the Senate's expanded protections. That’s a disgrace. Victims of violence shouldn’t be denied protection because of who they are or where the abuse takes place. Surely, the new 113th Congress will be able to agree on that and finally renew VAWA.