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This article was originally published on June 28, 2012.

Tahirih Justice Center praises the United States Senate’s passage yesterday of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Tahirih applauds the bipartisan commitment to enact critically needed legal and system reforms, including important steps to improve existing protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking and other abuses.

“Reaching this milestone is a tremendous bipartisan achievement,” said Tahirih’s Director of Public Policy Jeanne Smoot. “While much more work lies ahead to ensure final passage of solid bipartisan legislation, we are thrilled that the Senate bill includes crucial reforms that will uphold our values as a nation, and uplift some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

Among other measures that will reduce vulnerabilities to abuse and exploitation, by providing a route to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, the bill will prevent perpetrators from being able to threaten immigrant victims that they will be deported if they seek help or report crimes.

“If this legislation becomes law, it will be life-transforming, even lifesaving, for the courageous women and girls who come through our doors,” said Layli Miller-Muro, Tahirih’s Founder and Executive Director. “These reforms both prioritize their protection and empower them to protect themselves.”

Important protections for immigrant survivors in the bill include:

  • Eliminating a one-year asylum filing deadline that has denied protection to thousands of refugees seeking safe haven from persecution and has harshly and disproportionately impacted women: Women who escape such profound human rights violations as rape (including as a weapon of war), torture, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, or “honor” violence may take years to overcome the trauma, and often do not know that they could be eligible for asylum, let alone that there is a time limit to apply. Eliminating this bureaucratic hurdle will ensure that applications for protection will be judged on their actual merits, not according to a deadline.
  • Increasing the number of “U visas” available (to 18,000 a year, from the current annual cap of 10,000), for victims who help in the investigation or prosecution of designated crimes, including domestic violence and rape; adding child and elder abuse as U visa-eligible crimes: The U visa is an important law enforcement tool that both promotes public safety and protects victims, reassuring them that they can safely come forward and cooperate with police and prosecutors. Recognizing that the program is working to get victims to safety and to put perpetrators away, law enforcement and advocates joined together in urging Congress to increase the annual cap. Including child abuse and elder abuse as U visa crimes ensures that particularly vulnerable and often isolated immigrant victims can also be protected.
  • Supporting survivors’ self-sufficiency by granting those with pending immigration applications the legal right to work no later than 180 days after filing the application: This vital reform addresses lengthy delays (in some cases, over a year and a half) for immigration applications to be adjudicated. Such long wait times compromise survivors’ access to safety and economic security and have devastating ripple effects, such as the loss of child custody if a survivor cannot demonstrate how she will provide for her children. Without the legal right to work, survivors may be forced to remain dependent on abusers, or may find themselves in other abusive or exploitative situations as they seek shelter and support.

“The Senate bill reflects many tough compromises, but also demonstrates broad recognition that the United States urgently needs to make changes to achieve a more just immigration system,” said Tahirih’s Director of Public Policy, Jeanne Smoot. “We look forward to helping build continued momentum for these critical reforms in the House of Representatives.”