Congress needs to save immigrant women from harm

Congress needs to pass a version of the Violence Against Women Act that fully protects immigrant women who fall victim to domestic violence.

Consider what happens to thousands of undocumented domestic violence victims now residing in this country, such as Joon, whose name we have changed to protect her identity. But she is a real person. She was our client at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.

Joon came to the United States from Korea because her longtime boyfriend promised to marry her if she joined him. Instead, he repeatedly abused her.

Joon tried to end the relationship, but her abuser took advantage of the fact that Joon was not familiar with U.S. laws and threatened to take their child if she refused to meet him one last time.

It was during this final encounter that he tried to sexually assault her in the presence of their baby. She attempted to fight him off, while he severely beat her.

Joon managed to escape and called the police. She bravely stood up against her abuser and cooperated with the police and district attorney in the criminal case against her former boyfriend.

But Joon then had to face another threat: as an undocumented immigrant, she was in danger of deportation. Fortunately, she qualified for legal status under the U visa law, which is part of the Violence Against Women Act. The U visa created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement. Through the U visa, Joon was ultimately able to receive legal permanent residency status, and she aims to become a U.S. citizen.

Thanks to the Violence Against Women Act, Joon’s story has a happy ending, but other immigrants who survive domestic violence face the possibility of a much darker future.

In April, with the act up for renewal, the Senate passed a bill that retains protections for undocumented immigrant victims. But in May, the House passed its own version of the bill, which destroys the very fabric of the U visa law and rolls back these protections.

With two opposing bills, Congress now has the option to reconcile them into one. It is pivotal that the final bill to President Obama reflects the original intentions of the Violence Against Women Act.

House Republicans are delaying the reconciliation phase on a technicality. We call upon House Speaker John Boehner to end the stalemate and stand up for vulnerable women who are victims of crime.

Countless immigrant domestic violence survivors like Joon continue to need protection. In a nation where one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and one in six women has experienced some type of sexual assault, such protection is crucial.

Betty M. Song is a supervising attorney and Amy Woo Lee is a senior staff attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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