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Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. Before today, every VAWA bill we've considered over the last 20 years had three things in common: they've all been bipartisan, they've all been written in consultation with the advocates and service providers on the front lines against domestic violence, and they've all increased protections for victims of domestic violence.

This bill, even as amended, shares none of those attributes. It actually reduces protections that exist in current law for victims of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault. It was developed without any support or consultation from the minority or from the domestic violence advocates. And it is not bipartisan.

Now, the bill's opposed by every leading domestic violence organization. It's opposed by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Willow Creek Church, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, all the leading women's groups. It's opposed by law enforcement officials with years of experience fighting domestic violence. It's opposed by tribal authorities, immigration advocates, LGBT groups. The list goes on and on.

So the question really is this: If everyone from the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood to the National Association of Evangelicals and the Catholic Church have extreme concerns about this bill, who thinks this is a step in the right direction?

And as far as I can tell, the only groups who openly support the bill and the amendments are groups like SAVE and A Voice for Men, who align themselves, not with battered women, but with the men who abuse them.

I will insert into the Record an article from Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Lynne Hybels, the co-founder of the Willlow Creek Community Church. This is what they say:

Nicole came to the U.S. from Indonesia on a temporary fiancee visa, expecting to enjoy life as a spouse. Instead was trafficked.

They oppose the bill.

Nicole came to the United States from Indonesia on a temporary fiancée visa, fully expecting that she would enjoy life in a new country with the U.S. citizen she intended to marry. Instead, she found herself trapped as a victim of sex trafficking.

Nicole (not her real name), like thousands of other women, was forced to engage in commercial sex acts against her will. We heard about her when she received support from the Salvation Army STOP-IT Program in Illinois, which serves victims who have been harmed by the sex trade. (The Salvation Army is a denominational member of the National Association of Evangelicals.) Eventually, Nicole escaped from her trafficker and assisted law enforcement in the prosecution of the crime committed against her.

Though Nicole's fiancée visa had lapsed, leaving her susceptible to deportation, our nation's anti-trafficking law provided a legal option for her to be granted permanent legal status by helping law enforcement to prosecute her trafficker. With the help of a nonprofit legal service provider and the Salvation Army, Nicole was able to petition on her own for legal status--and obtain it--through a special ``U'' visa for immigrant victims of crime, allowing her to get back on her feet and begin rebuilding her life.

This week the House of Representatives is considering a proposal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994, but in a new version that would significantly undermine the same U visa program that provided Nicole with safety and permanency in the United States.

The U.S. government estimates that as many as 17,500 foreign-born victims are illegally trafficked in from abroad each year, and academic estimates suggest that at least 100,000 victims of human trafficking live in the United States today.

By force, fraud or coercion, traffickers keep victims enslaved in prostitution or forced labor.

If the House proposal is enacted, thousands like Nicole could remain enslaved, too afraid to speak out because some of their most effective safeguards will have disappeared. The proposal introduced by Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Florida, would dramatically roll back important protections for battered immigrant women and their children. It could face a vote Wednesday afternoon.

Several provisions would leave immigrant victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse no legal way to break the cycle of violence in which they are trapped.

Specifically, this version would remove the incentive of permanent safe haven in the United States for women who help bring abusers to justice. By changing the U visa from permanent to temporary, the bill could validate an abuser's threat that a call to police could result in deportation. Many women would keep quiet rather than risk immigration consequences.

The bill would also allow abusive partners in domestic violence cases to provide input as to whether their victim should qualify for immigration relief, stripping confidentiality provisions that currently protect victims. Abusive spouses, who are in a position to petition to adjust the status of their immigrant wives through marriage, can choose not to do so as a tool of abuse and fear. Abusers frequently deny guilt and falsely accuse victims of fraud or abuse.

We don't want a bill that endangers some of the women and children it purports to help. Overall, this bill's proposed changes to current law would discourage immigrant victims from escaping abuse and reporting crimes, and make all of us less safe.

Women--and, often, their children--come to our churches for sanctuary and hope. We believe Adams' proposal would put more lives in danger. It would perpetuate abusers' use of immigration status as part of the cycle of exploitation.

As evangelical Christians, we are committed to Jesus' great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor, with a particular concern for those who are most vulnerable. Through local churches and ministries, we extend that love when we provide counseling and support for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. In doing so, we point to the ultimate healing and restoration that we believe is found only in Jesus.

We also love our neighbor by speaking up when laws are proposed that could cause harm, intentionally or not. Loving our neighbor not only means reaching out to those in need, but also means addressing systemic problems that harm those in need.

That's why we're asking Speaker John Boehner and the House leadership to make sure that the Violence Against Women Act continues to protect vulnerable immigrant women who are victims of human trafficking or domestic violence. They need our protection.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. I think sometimes it's helpful to get into the nitty-gritty of legislation. This bill changes the law that exists today and reduces protection for immigrant women in key ways. Let me just talk about one of the ways.

If you are an immigrant temporarily here, or even without your documents, and you are a victim of domestic violence and the police want to keep you here because you're a witness or they need your help in a prosecution, the police can obtain what is called a U visa so you get to stay here. That's in the current law. It was bipartisan. It was done in the year 2000.

This bill changes that in important ways. Under current law, if you are a U visa holder, you have the possibility of applying for a permanent visa. Why is that important? Because otherwise, if you come forward to cooperate with the police, you could be voluntarily deporting yourself and be separated from your children, and that is a deterrent to people coming forward to work with the police. That's why it was crafted the way it was. Even under the manager's amendment, there is a diminution of that possibility, and it would lead to absurd results.

I'll give you an example.

Under the manager's amendment, you can only apply for the residence if your abuser had been deported to the country where you are from. So a U visa is for 4 years.

If your abuser is serving a 5-year sentence, you have to be deported, and then your abuser will come after you the next year. It's a stupid provision, unfortunately. I can't believe that that's the intended result. I know Mrs. Adams is sincere, but that's what is in the bill. And that's why people object to the bill--that, among many other provisions that will endanger women and take us back from where we were.

I think that when you take a look at not just the groups that support the Senate bill instead of this, but the groups that support this bill, who embrace abusers, you know where you need to stand--and that's not with this bill, despite the sincerity of the author.

Mrs. ADAMS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Let me first clarify. The bill requires that U visa holders actually assist law enforcement. Current law does not. Let's make that very clear. The other thing is we do want them to cooperate because we do want those perpetrators off the streets. We want to make sure they're off the streets so that no other victim is victimized.

In the earlier version of the bill, I was very concerned about: What about the next victim? If we do this and we don't address this, what about the next victim? Which victim doesn't make it out of that house? And I've heard my colleagues on the other side talk about how we're trying to do something because of immigration. No. We're trying to do something to protect the victims and the next victims if we don't get the circle of violence stopped. It always repeats itself.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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