THE BLOG

Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform to Help Immigrant Victims of Violence

03/06/2014 04:20 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2014

This Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization being signed into law. As the House sponsor of the strong, bipartisan Senate VAWA update, I can tell you that this was a victory hard-fought and one that women should be proud of. I witnessed the tireless grassroots work of our advocates, the bravery of victims coming forward to share their stories, and the fellowship of women all across our country. The battle cry was clear: strengthening protections for women, rather than rolling them back, is a non-negotiable path forward for our country.

Today, the fight to move that mission forward continues. We owe it to the faceless victims of our past and present to continue expanding our protections to all women across our country. As demonstrated by this past VAWA reauthorization - it is the unwavering policy of the United States that we do not tolerate domestic violence against any woman - regardless of who she is or where she comes from. Our work is not done until all women are protected against violence and abusers face the full penalties of the law when they are brought to justice.

Today we have an opportunity to help tens of thousands more faceless victims across our country - by passing comprehensive immigration reform.

We know that immigrant victims face significant challenges in confronting domestic violence and sexual assault unique to their immigrant status. For example, in some cases both the abuser and the victim are arrested during a domestic violence call, when the police fail to obtain an interpreter and the victim is unable to adequately explain her situation to police, often leaving the "explanation" to the abuser. Then, a program called "Secure Communities" requires police to run the fingerprints of those who have been arrested to check their immigration status - that could result in the detention and even deportation of the immigrant victim, tearing her away from her children and family.

A great number of immigrant women victims don't even get that far. Many women have their status used as leverage by their abuser who threatens to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement if there is any attempt to get help. Additionally, exploitation in the workplace is an everyday reality for many undocumented women, who often face poor working conditions, sexual abuse and harassment, and wage theft because they cannot obtain work authorization. Moreover, our country's continued use of local law enforcement to assist in identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants undermines the trust between the immigrant community and local police, and makes victims and witnesses less willing to come forward. Tragically, many victims decide to stay in physically and sexually violent situations rather than risk being torn away from their children or ending up in the streets without shelter or sustenance.

Comprehensive immigration reform would lift millions of these immigrants out of the shadows, reducing women's vulnerability to abuse and exploitation and eliminating one of the major barriers to seeking assistance. Women would be empowered through legal status and work authorization to gain economic independence from their abusers. Further, many women would no longer have to make the heart-wrenching decision to stay in an abusive situation out of fear of being torn apart from their families. By passing comprehensive immigration reform, we will take steps to eliminate the conditions that make immigrant women vulnerable to predators - and we will make sure that those predators are brought to justice.

Like reauthorizing and strengthening VAWA last year, today we have a human rights obligation to help those victims who are suffering in the shadows. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting comprehensive immigration reform.