The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorized by Congress Wednesday removes protections for immigrant women who are victims of violence. Some faith leaders, including National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, oppose stripping away provisions that could aid mail-order brides and other immigrants. Other evangelical groups, including Concerned Women for America, want the act scrapped altogether.
Many women come to the U.S. on visas because they are married to a U.S. citizen. But if a wife leaves the husband because of violence in the home, she risks being deported. The act allows women to confidentially petition for a special "U visa" that will allow them to remain in the country as permanent residents.
The new act passed by the House would eliminate a woman's confidentiality—a husband would now be interviewed after his wife has filed for the visa to verify her accusations against him. The standards for granting special visas are stricter under the House bill. The legislation also discourages plea bargaining, which will result in more victims being forced to face abusers in the court room.
Leaders from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, World Relief, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Sojourners, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Christian Community Development Association, the NAE, and other prominent faith-based groups sent an open letter to Congress opposing the new provisions.
"Through our ministry with victims, we have learned that abusers often exploit a victim's immigration status, leaving individuals extremely vulnerable and afraid to report the abuse to law enforcement, assist in the prosecution of crimes, and seek services," the leaders wrote. "[The new VAWA provisions] would actually roll back protections in current law for battered non-citizens, making them more vulnerable and, in some cases, endangering their lives."
Leaders from other organizations oppose the act because it promotes "the feminist agenda" and the "domestic violence ideology." An open letter to Congress written by Concerned Women for America argued against the Senate version of the bill. The letter was signed by leaders from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and other groups.
"There is no denying the very real problem of violence against women and children. However, the programs promoted in VAWA are harmful for families," the statement says. "VAWA often encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence."
Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, also said the act does not protect men from false allegations. "VAWA offers women both a 'tactical advantage' and a 'powerful weapon' when they want to 'get back' at a man, have regrets the next morning, or want out of a marriage for any reason at all," Crouse said. "Allegations of abuse can cause men to lose their homes, jobs, children, and standing in the community. Once they've been thrown in jail because of mandatory arrests and have been assumed guilty, where do they go to get their reputations and their jobs back when the accusations are proven false?"
One of the groups that signed CWA's letter is Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE). The Huffington Post reported that SAVE has been lobbying for the immigration-related changes to the act. SAVE's treasurer, Natasha Spivack, founded Encounters International, a company that arranges marriages between American men and Russian women.