Extending the Violence Against Women Act to the Undocumented

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary This was something that should have been done some time ago. The U.S. House of Representatives finally voted to include undocumented women in the Violence Against Women Act to help protect this vulnerable group and prevent them from being further victims of crime by their spouses. The original Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, and had been renewed by the U.S. Congress since. However, when U.S. President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate wanted to include undocumented women in the Act in 2011, the Republicans voted against it, stating that including undocumented women was unacceptable. The Republican U.S. House especially rejected this provision because they claimed it would “reward illegal behavior.” Under the Act, those undocumented women who report being abused would receive protection and a legal resident visa.

Why did the Republicans change their mind? The last presidential election is the key. Not only did the Republicans lose over 70 percent of the Latino vote, but they lost 55 percent of the women vote. Many of these U.S. House representatives are now thinking about their careers in 2014, when congressional elections will be held. Women’s and Latino groups have been calling for inclusion of undocumented women into the Act to protect this vulnerable group from continual abuse and injury. Law enforcement has also called for inclusion of undocumented women into the Act. This part comes as no surprise since police and law enforcement have had serious trouble trying to get undocumented women to come forth and talk about the abuse they and their children endure due to the threat of deportation.

The mere threat of deportation was one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of abusers. For undocumented women, it meant they had to endure continual abuse and being forced to remain silent. Worse, it meant that abused undocumented women could not only be jailed and deported but lose custody of their children and any rights they might have had. That is why this inclusion in the Act is so important. It is good that finally the Republicans have chosen not to play politics with an issue that affects millions of vulnerable women whose only real “crime” is their immigration status.

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