Bloomberg News

Victims’ Visas Divide Congress on Domestic Violence Bill

May 16, 2012

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The House today passed the bill, 222-205, on a mostly party-line vote. Democrats criticized the Republican-written measure as part of the party’s “war on women.”

“They don’t want to hear us talk about the war on women, but this is a direct assault on women’s lives,” Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, said before the vote. Moore, who sponsored a proposal similar to a bill passed by the Democratic-dominated Senate, said she was once raped. Democrats said the Republican proposal would force immigrant victims to choose between staying with their abusers and risking deportation.

President Barack Obama’s administration prefers the Senate- passed version, S. 1925, and his administration threatened a veto of the House bill. Six Democrats joined 216 Republicans in voting for the House bill, while 23 Republicans and 182 Democrats opposed it.

Both parties put female lawmakers at the forefront of the debate. Republican Sandy Adams, a freshman lawmaker from central Florida who was a deputy sheriff before coming to Congress, sponsored the House bill. Adams said she had personal experience with the victims the bill is meant to aid, and that her first marriage was an abusive relationship from which she escaped.

‘I Am Offended’

“I have sat quietly and tried to behave here but I am offended when I hear that this does not protect victims,” Adams said. “As someone who has been in the situation, who has been on the scenes of these crimes, we are trying to reauthorize something that’s very important to victims. Victims, not politics.”

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act and later reauthorizations of the law have easily passed both chambers of Congress.

The grants to women’s shelters and police training weren’t at issue, as the House and Senate versions would authorize spending of about $660 million annually. Instead, the debate centered on immigration visas for victims of domestic violence, gay rights and which party would be the best choice for women voters.

The House bill would curtail special visas reserved for immigrant victims of abuse who cooperate with law enforcement. Current law allows such visas to be used as a start toward legal permanent residence or citizenship. The House measure would block that path to citizenship in almost all circumstances unless the accused person is deported.

‘Inexcusable’

In the Senate, a group of Senate Democrats joined with House colleagues in calling for action on the Senate bill, which passed that chamber on a 68-31 vote April 26. Every woman in the Senate, and almost a third of Republicans, supported it.

“What is happening in the House is inexcusable,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. She said the House bill wouldn’t provide adequate help for groups including immigrants, gays and college students.

With each chamber rejecting the other’s plan, the competing Violence Against Women Acts would have to be merged before becoming law.

The House bill is H.R. 4970.

To contact the reporter on this story: Derek Wallbank in Washington at dwallbank@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net


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