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Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) urges Congress to swiftly pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was reintroduced yesterday, and preserve life-saving protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

NIJC applauds Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) for reintroducing an inclusive VAWA reauthorization bill in the Senate that improves protections for immigrant survivors of violence. Also yesterday, Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a House companion VAWA bill identical to the bipartisan Senate bill.

“Congress has an opportunity to affirm the commitment the U.S. government made nearly 20 years ago when it first passed VAWA to protect survivors of violence and domestic abuse and send a clear message that all victims deserve access to protection,” said NIJC Director of Legal Services Mony Ruiz-Velasco. NIJC and its pro bono attorneys assist hundreds of immigrant victims and their families each year.

Among its many other protections available to victims, VAWA has been an important tool for immigrants trapped in violent and abusive relationships and whose legal status relied on their abusers. The newest version of VAWA does not create new protections or remedies for immigrant victims, but it improves already existing protections to make current services more effective.

Through VAWA, noncitizen victims of violence who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of certain crimes may obtain lawful immigration status through the U visa. Absent in the bill introduced yesterday, unfortunately, is an increase in the number of U visas available. An increase is necessary to diminish the extensive backlog of eligible survivors who have qualified for the protection but are still waiting for a visa. NIJC strongly encourages Congress to prioritize the needs of immigrant victims of violence and increase the number of available U visas in a future bill.

Despite Congress’ failure to reauthorize VAWA last year, it now has an opportunity to change course and uphold protections for all survivors of violence. The Senate and the House must immediately pass this already overdue life-saving legislation.