With an election coming up in November, rather than re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with bi-partisan support, as has been the case since it was first enacted in 1994, Senate Republican sources claim Democrats laced the bill with controversial new provisions intended to derail the legislation.
The newly revised version of VAWA significantly increases spending in areas prone to fraud and abuse and lacks proper safeguards. It also increases the risk of visa abuse leading to full citizenship through deception by illegal immigrants and gives criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian individuals to Indian Tribes, potentially stripping them of certain Constitutional protections.
With the economy remaining weak and Obama’s poll numbers falling, some Republicans also believe the public battle is meant primarily as a distraction. “That Republicans are somehow unresponsive to women suffering from domestic abuse is ridiculous,” said one Senate aide. It’s claimed the new additions were never agreed to by Republicans beforehand and have little to do with domestic violence.
The Democrats’ new version of VAWA raises the number of U-visas for immigrants who can aid in a criminal investigation from 10k to 15k annually. They are available to immigrants both in and outside the country and there is no requirement that the U-visa recipient actually aid in any investigation – or that one even be underway.
An immigrant may stay in the U.S. for four years under a U-visa; however, the system is open to exploitation. A recipient may apply for an adjustment of status after 3 years and become a legal permanent resident. They’re also available to immigrants awaiting deportation. Democrats refused to support provisions to improve the system by limiting the possibilities for exploitation.
Democrats have also claimed that Republicans oppose their version of the bill because it protects certain groups. But all victims are already protected under VAWA and grants to local governments, and nonprofit organizations are administered without question as to the sexual orientation of victims.
The bill also gives criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian individuals to Indian Tribes in cases of domestic abuse. Republicans are concerned such a precedent would open the door to even broader jurisdiction. A non-Indian subject to tribal jurisdiction would enjoy few meaningful civil-rights protections and tribal governments are not bound by the Constitution’s First, Fifth, or Fourteenth Amendments, based upon court rulings.
It also authorizes over $600K for VAWA grant programs while providing little to no real oversight. Several cases of abuse or fraud have been observed in the past. A July 2010 audit of the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware, resulted in questioning of the use of 93% of the $891,422 Legal Assistance for Victims grant.
In September 2005, an audit of Legal Aid of Nebraska questioned 64.5% of its $1,981,552 grant for the same purpose, and many grantees who have been audited in 2010 were found to have used some grant funds questionably, with 21 out of 22 grantees audited failing to document their use of funds.
The Grassley amendment would have required the Department of Justice/Office of Inspector General (DOJ/OIG) to audit 10% of all grantees annually and discontinue funds for grantees found to be using them for unacceptable purposes. Democrats did not support the provision.