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WASHINGTON — Tahirih honored two trailblazing congresswomen who are dedicated to protecting vulnerable women and girls from violence at its 17th Annual Gala, “Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage,” on April 9.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., received Tahirih’s Congressional Leadership Award for their dedication to reforming our broken immigration system and safeguarding the rights and dignity of the individuals and families whom it impacts. The pioneering public servants have led by example and have a sincere commitment to bipartisan collaboration, one of Tahirih’s cores values.

“Both of the congresswomen we honor tonight exemplify the kind of bipartisan collaboration that we believe is so critical to achieving desperately-needed, legislative protections for immigrant girls and women,” said Archi Pyati, Tahirih’s Director of Public Policy.

The congresswomen are members of the bipartisan Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform and co-sponsors of HR 15, the bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Among other reforms, the bill would strengthen protections for immigrant women and girls facing violence in their homes and communities. Ros-Lehtinen and Roybal-Allard are also co-sponsors of the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

“I am so humbled to receive this award,” Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday night as she accepted her award.

“I immigrated from Cuba when I was only 8, so I know what it’s like to be a person here not knowing the language, and you feel like a stranger. You want someone to help you out,” she added. “Those girls and those women are vulnerable then to those who prey upon them and will abuse them. This is just another reason that I am a strong supporter of immigration reform to ensure that the protections that we have fought so hard to get actually reach the most defenseless among us, and those are women and children.”

Ros-Lehtinen speaks at Tahirih's 17th Annual Gala

Ros-Lehtinen speaks at Tahirih’s 17th Annual Gala. Photo Credit: Michael Collela

After fleeing the Castro regime as a girl with her family, Ros-Lehtinen resettled in Miami, part of the diverse district she now serves. She was the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida State House and Senate, and the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress when she was elected in 1989. Ros-Lehtinen was a lead sponsor of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which supports programs and increases resources toward the prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault.

Roybal-Allard’s tenure in Congress is also filled with firsts: she was the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress, the first woman to chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the first Latina appointed to the House Appropriations Committee on which she currently serves.

Dedicated to protecting children and youth, Roybal-Allard has introduced the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which includes provisions to improve the treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children, as well as the CARE Act, a bill to address abusive and exploitative labor practices in agriculture. She also co-sponsored the 2013 VAWA reauthorization.

“In partnership with Tahirih and the support of so many organizations and individuals such as you who are in this room, I am confident that we will pass responsible immigration reform, and as a result, immigrant women and their families will be able to live outside the shadow of fear to raise their families and to contribute to our American society to the very best of their ability,” Roybal-Allard said.

“I thank Tahirih for this incredible honor and I extend my most sincere congratulations to all this evening’s other honorees who together with Tahirih help to send a clear message to women who refuse to be victims of violence that they are valued, and that there is hope for a better future,” she said.

Tahirih’s annual gala pays tribute to the incredible courage of immigrant survivors of violence, and renews the commitment to end the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, in which no community is immune.

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