In 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to alleviate the problem of intimate partner violence at the federal level. Since then, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have regularly reauthorized VAWA as a “no-brainer” to protect battered women – that is, until now. After months of heated debate, the House stalled and the legislation failed to pass. And so, for the first time in 19 years, a year begins without VAWA, a crucial law to protect victims of domestic violence – and a critical funding source for the programs that serve them.
In addition to the legal protections it offers, VAWA provides funds to states to distribute to shelters and agencies that help victims of abuse. Many of these programs are now struggling to find replacement revenue, and many could be shut down within the year if their funding dries up.
Civil legal services are frequently cited as the most effective form of relief available to help victims of domestic violence. NYLAG is a recognized expert in this area, helping women file civil orders of protection to keep them safe, and securing child support or marital assets to help them gain financial independence. We know firsthand that VAWA works: it lifts the veil of secrecy that hides family violence and allows victims to break free. This law has been highly successful in protecting women, holding batterers accountable, and providing resources to educate and build awareness for this pervasive societal problem.
Perhaps no demographic has benefitted more from VAWA’s protections than undocumented immigrant victims. For these women, immigration status is just one more weapon that their abusers use to intimidate them into silence by saying, “You can’t call the police because they will deport you.” Cowed by fear of deportation, many victims don’t report abuse to the police, seek medical attention or avail themselves of court-based remedies. This is especially true for mothers who worry that, if deported, they will be forced to leave their US citizen children behind to be raised by their abusers. Our ability to help these women is a direct result of VAWA, which allows organizations like NYLAG to help undocumented immigrant victims file for immigration relief without the abuser’s knowledge. As one of our attorneys, who works with immigrant victims, put it, “This is a law that works. This is a law that lets her leave.”
Why would we revoke a law that keeps women safe?
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge