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This article was originally published on May 17, 2012.

Tahirih Justice Center is deeply disappointed by the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage yesterday of a flawed bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The House bill (HR 4970) will actually harm immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence because it:

  • Rolls back vital protections which have for nearly 20 years enjoyed bipartisan support, and have proven life-saving for thousands of acutely vulnerable immigrant women and their children; and
  • Undercuts law enforcement’s efforts to investigate and prosecute serious violent crimes with immigrant victims’ help.

The House bill also fails to close gaps and strengthen protections in the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, excluding several critically needed improvements proposed by Tahirih. These measures are key to ensuring that this law, enacted as part of the last reauthorization of VAWA, works as Congress intended to prevent the abuse and exploitation of women through so-called “mail-order bride” agencies.

A total of 205 legislators voted “no” (182 Democrats; 23 Republicans). Tahirih and other advocates believe the split vote reflects strong bipartisan opposition to a fundamentally flawed bill that was unnecessarily rushed through (only 14 work days passed between introduction and vote). The bill’s opponents clearly communicated that the House version of VAWA actually increases risks to immigrant women, and that they wanted to see a thoughtful bill put forward in the House that would enhance VAWA protections for all victims.

In addition to national advocacy, Tahirih offers free legal and social services to immigrant women and girls fleeing violence, across offices in Virginia, Maryland and Texas. Tahirih especially commends legislators from the organization’s “home states” who took a principled stand with their vote against the harmful House bill yesterday.

Tahirih’s Executive Director, Layli Miller-Muro, said, “Tahirih thanks in particular Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD), Jim Moran (D-VA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), long-time supporters of Tahirih’s efforts to protect women and girls fleeing horrific violence. Some of these legislators have met with Tahirih’s courageous clients, and know how critically important VAWA protections are to their ability to escape violence, seek help, report crimes, and work with police and prosecutors to hold abusers and perpetrators accountable. Tahirih is very proud and very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such committed allies on both sides of the aisle.”

As part of Tahirih’s work on the House bill, Tahirih’s Director of Public Policy, Jeanne Smoot, galvanized a sign-on appeal to Representative Poe, as Co-Chair of the House Victims’ Rights Caucus, from 24 Texas programs serving and advocating on behalf of domestic and sexual violence victims, including the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. The letter urged Representative Poe to oppose the House bill because it would erode protections for immigrant victims.

Smoot commented: “We know that Judge Poe took seriously the concerns that advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence were bringing to his attention. We deeply appreciate that he took a stand to defend VAWA’s protections for immigrant victims, knowing first-hand from his many years on the bench just how incredibly vulnerable immigrant victims are to threats from violent perpetrators that keep them silent, trapped, and afraid.”

Tahirih also thanks Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, for leading opposition to the harmful House bill; and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, whose legal expertise in immigration matters made her a particularly eloquent and effective voice for how the House bill would harshly impact immigrant victims.

As the two bills go on to conference, Tahirih looks forward to continuing to work with conferees, and champions in the House and Senate, to ensure that the final bill that emerges is a worthy reflection of VAWA’s longstanding bipartisan commitment to protect all victims of violence.

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