What Congress’ failure to renew VAWA means for U-Visa

Por en English 01/7/13 2:22pm
U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar and Debbie Stabenow called for the House to pass the Senate's bill in Dec. The House did not pass a bill. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

News organizations ranging from NPR to Jezebel are lamenting Congress’ failure to renew the Violence Against Women Act, which has left many programs aimed at helping victims of domestic violence in jeopardy.

Human Rights Watch has called VAWA “the single most important US law for women’s safety.”

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what the government’s failure means, in practice, for abused women, and so we’ve reached out to experts for more information.

Although the law was not renewed, its provisions remain in effect.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, explained to us through a spokesperson that the bill’s provisions “will continue to be available as they have been.”

Ruiz-Velasco said that as long as Congress continue to appropriate money to VAWA programs, its protections for women — like the U-Visa — will remain intact. There has been no indication that the funding will be cut.

But Congress’ failure to reauthorize VAWA sets a “negative tone” for the future of the legislation, she added, noting it is “disappointing that for the first time in nearly 20 years, Congress was unable to come to an agreement about legislation intended to protect victims of violence.”

Rosie Hidalgo, the director of public policy at Casa de Esperanza, a Latino organization against domestic violence, pointed out that the law actually expired in 2011 but Congress kept funding it through 2012.

“It’s our hope and expectation that they will continue appropriating funds while we continue working on the authorization of this legislation,” Hidalgo said.

One of the key provisions of the Violence Against Women Act was the U-Visa, which allows victims of crimes to receive a special immigration visa if they assist law enforcement.

As the New York Times pointed out this fall, the Department of Homeland Security reached its annual 10,000 limit on U-Visas a month before the fiscal year ended.

The United States Senate passed a version of VAWA last spring with 68 votes that would increase the U-Visa cap by 5,000 a year, to 15,000. Advocates hail the U-Visa as a critical tool for all parties.

“It’s a very important visa so that victims come out of the shadows and perpetrators are held responsible,” Hidalgo said. “It also is an important tool for law enforcement so they’re better able to enhance public safety by having victims assist in the prosecution and investigation of crimes.”

As is, the U-Visa will continue to exist with 10,000 available each fiscal year, a spokeswoman for United States Customs and Immigration Services confirmed.

“The failure of Congress to renew those provisions of VAWA will not impact USCIS operations,” said Marilu Cabrera. “The U-Visa will be issued as it always has been.”

The Violence Against Women Act was held up after the House of Representatives refused to pass a bill including protections for Native Americans and immigrants.

Still, there have been positive steps taken. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK) have authored a compromise bill seeking out middle ground on Indian tribes.

“We’re hopeful that this time around we’ll get a better bill,” Hidalgo said. “We remain hopeful that there’s hopefully a bipartisan commitment to get a better bill that protects all victims.”