Violence Against Women Act moving forward, hurdles remain

Por en English 02/11/13 12:49pm
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

The Violence Against Women Act is poised to pass in the United States Senate, multiple news outlets are reporting, but its future remains murky.

The United States Senate is expected to pass the landmark legislation late this afternoon or early tomorrow. It has 62 sponsors, including Illinois Senators Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk. (You can check the list here to see if your favorite senator has sponsored the bill.)

Here at Hoy, we’re working on a series about domestic violence in immigrant communities. We’ve spoken to perpetrators, examined problems with the state of Illinois’ list of providers, and surveyed non-profits that work every day to help victims.

We’ve also explored the consequences of Congress’ failure to renew VAWA.

Contrary to a mistaken but popular belief, we reported that the act remains in effect as long as its funding remains intact. The bill technically expired last year but remained operational due to continued funding.

We were assured by the spokeswoman for United States Customs and Immigration Services in Chicago, Marilu Cabrera, that “the failure of Congress to renew those provisions of VAWA will not impact USCIS operations.” Activists like Rosie Hidalgo, the director of public policy at Casa de Esperanza, a Latino organization against domestic violence, told us she was optimistic about the bill’s future.

VAWA’s sponsor, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, has ushered in several amendments to “to beef up resources to combat human trafficking” and expanded protection for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans, according to Talking Points Memo.

It’s the last measure — relating to Native Americans — that is threatening the bill’s future in the House of Representatives.

Under current law, there are jurisdictional problems for Native American women who are sexually assaulted by non-Native American men.

If a Native woman is raped on tribal land by a non-Native, “she must plead for justice to already overburdened United States attorneys who are often hundreds of miles away,” according to the New York Times.

The current version of the Violence Against Women Act would, “for the first time, allow Native American police and courts to pursue non-Indians who attack women on tribal land,” the Times reports.

That isn’t sitting well with certain Republicans in the House of Representatives.

“This is a bill which could do so much good in the battle for victims’ rights, but unfortunately it is being held hostage by a single provision that would take away fundamental constitutional rights for certain American citizens,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on the Senate floor on Thursday, according to the Times. “And for what? For what? In order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of special interests.”

Not all Republicans agree. Rep. Tom Cole, from Oklahoma, has been pushing his peers to give in on the issue.

“This will have passed the Senate. The president’s for it. And we’re holding up a domestic violence bill that should be routine because you don’t want to help Native women who are the most vulnerable over a philosophical point?” Cole said.

As we watch the ongoing controversy, we can’t help but think of Rosie Hidalgo’s words when we spoke with her last month.

During an interview with Hoy, Hidalgo said: “We remain hopeful that there’s hopefully a bipartisan commitment to get a better bill that protects all victims.”

We remain hopeful as well.