Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Amy Klobuchar
Date: Feb. 7, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I spoke earlier today about the importance of passing the Violence Against Women Act, how this has been a long-time bipartisan bill back to 1994 when the late Senator Paul Wellstone was involved in this bill, as well as Vice President Biden. People came together and said we have to do something about domestic violence. This is no longer a hidden crime behind closed doors.

Do you know what we have seen since then? We have seen a 50-percent reduction--a 50-percent reduction--in domestic violence in this country. This is a victory. We do not want to go backward. Unfortunately, the bill that has been submitted by Senator Grassley, the substitute amendment, I believe would take us backward. Let me explain why.

First of all, we know the VAWA reauthorization bill was months of negotiation between the two lead authors, Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Crapo. It has bipartisan consensus and was drafted after months of input from numerous stakeholders.

Unfortunately, the Grassley substitute doesn't do a lot of the things that are so important to us in this Violence Against Women bill. This is not an acceptable substitute.

While much of this bill is consistent with past policy in the Violence Against Women Act, there were some changes that we felt necessary to match the times. One of them is a growing problem of tribal domestic violence. Domestic violence in tribal communities, unfortunately, is an epidemic. Four out of five perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence on tribal lands are non-Indian and currently cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments. The only way is to have the U.S. Attorney's Office come in. They do a lot of good work. My United States Attorney's office has done great work historically through several administrations with our tribal communities, but these cases should be able to be prosecuted not only by U.S. attorneys but also by tribal governments. The Leahy-Crapo VAWA reauthorization bill builds on the protections for Indian women by recognizing tribes' authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence against their Indian spouses or dating partners. Let me say this was narrowly tailored for these acts of domestic violence with specific requirements.

The Grassley proposal, unfortunately, does not provide the tribes the authority to enforce laws against domestic violence on their own lands. It also takes money away from other Justice Department grant programs to install Federal magistrate judges and prosecutors on tribal lands. Bringing in large numbers of Federal officials goes against the locally based solutions to domestic violence that VAWA has so successfully promoted.

Federal judges and prosecutors already, as I pointed out, have authority to handle cases on tribal lands. This has not stemmed the plague of violence against Indian women. That is what you do with the reauthorizations. That is why you don't have bills go on forever and forever into eternity. You have reauthorizations to try to address some issues which can make things better.

Here we have addressed one. While the Violence Against Women Act has helped so much with so many victims of domestic violence in this country, we still see incredibly tragic numbers when it comes to domestic violence against American Indian women. That is why we have made these changes. It allowed us the reauthorization to adjust.

While the Grassley proposal allows a tribe to petition a Federal court for a protective order to exclude individuals from tribal land, this does not begin to address the problem of non-Indian perpetrators who are not arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for those heinous crimes. This is a false alternative that does almost nothing to solve the epidemic of violence against Native women.

Another issue. There was a very careful negotiation that went on with where the funding went. We had to make cuts to funding this year in many areas, including this one. We negotiated how much of the funds would go to sexual assault and how much would go to domestic violence. The Leahy-Crapo VAWA reauthorization bill includes a 20-percent set-aside for sexual assault programming in the STOP program, a balance that was achieved after months of discussions with domestic violence and sexual assault service providers. The bill increases the focus on sexual assault without endangering domestic violence victims. It was a big deal that we were able to get it done. Unfortunately, the Grassley proposal makes a change to that and goes against the negotiation we already had in place.

Finally, there is the issue with the Grassley proposal on U visas. As you most likely heard, we actually made changes to the original bill on U visas already in this negotiated bill. We were going to be able to use U visas that had been issued in prior years but not actually used, and be able to use those numbers in the coming years. We ended up taking that out. I didn't agree with that, and I hope it is something we can address and fix in immigration reform. Unfortunately, the Grassley proposal goes even farther. It adds more restrictions on U visas.

Let me stop for a moment to explain what these U visas are. This is when you have an immigrant victim of domestic violence. When I was a prosecutor for 8 years, we would have a number of cases where an immigrant was a victim. What do you think her perpetrator did to get her to be scared to come forward? They said, We are going to deport you if you come forward to law enforcement. You will never be able to stay in this country.

What the U visas do is give that victim a status to remain in the country to make sure this person gets prosecuted and then work on some kind of a permanent immigration status. That is what the U visas are. I think they are a necessary component. There have been agreed-upon numbers for years when this bill has been reauthorized.

Unfortunately, as I said, the Grassley proposal adds restrictions on U visas which are a law enforcement tool to encourage immigrants to report and help prosecute crime. The restrictions are put in there--I am sure Senator Grassley, who is so good at fighting fraud, put them in there for good reason--to deter fraud, but no study or report has been cited to indicate that there is an issue here. U visas already have fraud protections because law enforcement officers must personally certify that the victim is cooperating with the criminal investigation. I tend to believe the personal certification from a law enforcement officer, and that is the proof that we have to issue the U visas.

No program is perfect. I am sure we can work with Senator Grassley in the future if there are some fraud issues here. At this point, after a year of negotiation in trying to get the bill through here, we have significant bipartisan support. It is not the time to put a substitute in.

I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity. I urge my colleagues to reject the substitute Grassley amendment, embrace this bill, and vote for it. It is a good bill.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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