Last week the Senate passed a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Despite weeks of bickering between Democrats and Republicans, Thursday’s vote of 68-31 was a resounding affirmation of a bipartisan commitment to strengthen laws to support battered immigrants and other victims of violence.
The Senate approved S. 1925, a bill championed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would temporarily expand the number of U visas that can be granted annually to immigrant victims of violence. The U visa program encourages undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and report crimes to law enforcement officials and in return, law enforcement receives the immigrant victims’ cooperation in catching and prosecuting perpetrators.
The Senate bill would also require the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to adopt national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction, and punishment of rape and sexual assault in federal detention facilities. Recognizing some of the horrific accounts featured in the recent Frontline report about sexual assault in immigration detention, this provision would be a huge step forward in ensuring the safety of immigrants in all federal facilities.
Earlier this year LIRS and 28 Lutheran bishops, district presidents, and executives of social ministry organizations wrote to Senators encouraging them to adopt these protections for immigrant victims of violence, among others. While the final bill’s immigration provisions are far from ideal, we are pleased that the VAWA re-authorization contains a number of strong protections for immigrant victims of crime and is one step closer to reaching the President’s desk for his signature.
Next week the House of Representatives will begin marking up their own version of the VAWA bill. To urge Congress to protect immigrant victims of crime, please visit the LIRS Action Center.