You, a sane person, might think the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — something that's a proven saver of lives — would be an easy, bipartisan pass in Congress. Well, the two other times the 1994 legislation came up for reauthorization, it was. However, during the 2012 reauthorization, which slid through Senate in April of last year with added protection for immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans, hit a stumbling block when the House GOP decided they weren't comfortable giving legal status to undocumented victims of abuse. You know, something that could help prosecute their attackers and save their lives. I mean, they're lucky enough to be hiding out in some godforsaken shitbox town* stealing our crappiest jobs that nobody else was doing, what more do they want? Basic human rights and some general decency? Wrong country, y'all!
Instead of compromising — the GOP wanted to pass their own extremely watered down version but that died when the White House threatened to veto and the GOP leaders decided the law wasn't a priority — they decided to let the law expire. The law that protected millions of our most vulnerable citizens.
Some members of Congress were pissed, and vowed to reintroduce the reauthorization the minute the 113th Congress convened in early January. As House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) promised said "It is an early priority for us. Since it passed the Senate last time, with two more Democrats in the Senate, we hope that it will have an easy path there and a doable path there — and a successful one in the House."
True to their words, yesterday Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) reintroduced the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That's good news, but the not so good news is that the new version of the bill has some compromises — namely, the part the GOP threw such a fit about to begin with. The new version is missing the section that would have increased the number of special visas allotted for undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence.
Law enforcement uses them to grant legal status to undocumented victims so that those victims can assist in prosecuting their attackers, who might otherwise use their lack of legal status as leverage to keep them silent. There is a cap of 10,000 of these "U visas" a year, and the government consistently hits the cap. Although the visas themselves are handed out by law enforcement, and the increased number of visas would have come from unused visas in past years, Republicans objected to the increased number as an invitation for fraud. "Caps are a way to control the flow of people. They are a stop-gap measure against fraud," Sen. Chuck Grassely (R-Iowa) said in a floor speech against the bill last year.
That's really, really incredibly crappy. However, many activists for equality are saying we need to support Leahy and Crapo's new version of the bill, noting there are other ways to get around the U visa issue (potentially in a new immigration reform bill).
"Does it thrill us that the U visa piece is not in there? Absolutely not," says Lisalyn Jacobs of the women's rights group Legal Momentum. "Are we sanguine about it, because we think we can now get a bill over to the House they can act on we hope? Yes."
As Mother Jones reports, the new version of the bill resolves House Republicans' procedural objection, but it's still unclear whether the House GOP will back it. Seeing as their charming right wing contingent is strong, vocal, and has so much respect for women, I can't imagine they'll be anything but supportive.
*that is, until we can catch and deport them.