Violence Against Women Act becomes latest immigration battleground


WASHINGTON -- The debate over updating a law that protects victims of domestic abuse has become the latest battleground over immigration policy.

Republicans in Congress are proposing to strip away existing protections for immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence.

The Republican-drafted version of the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994, is scheduled to be debated on the House floor on Wednesday and could be brought to a vote this week.

Currently the law offers anonymity to victims of domestic abuse who are applying for residency visas so that their applications cannot be sabotaged by their abusers. To encourage victims of domestic abuse crimes to remain in the U.S. and cooperate with police, witnesses are able to apply for a special residency visa and eventually apply for permanent residency.

Both of these safeguards have been removed from the House bill.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has argued the changes will help prevent fraud.

“It’s never been this nasty,” said an administration official involved in the negotiations who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We’d rather not have a bill than have this be the bill,” the official said.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it passes without restoring existing protections. The Senate version of the bill, which preserves and expands the existing protections, passed last month with bipartisan support, 68 to 31.

A handful of Republicans have split with the party’s leadership over the legislation. Seven GOP representatives sent a letter to Smith last week asking that the bill be drafted by members from both parties.

“I am very concerned that the current bill ... doesn’t reflect everything we’ve learned over the last five years in terms of what works best for prosecutors or victims,” Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night.

The bill has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support since it was originally passed in 1994.

The House bill “makes it harder for women to get safe,” said Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women.