The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994 as Title IV of H.R.3355, and it has a long history of uniting lawmakers with the common purpose of protecting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Congress has reauthorized the law in 2000 and 2005, each time with broad, bipartisan support and with improvements to better address the needs and improve access to services for victims. Over the years, Congress has consistently recognized the vulnerability of noncitizen victims of violence and has therefore enacted provisions in VAWA that enhance safety for victims and their children and provide important tools for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes.
VAWA has always included special protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, recognizing that the abusers of immigrant victims often use their victims’ lack of immigration status as a tool for abuse, leaving the victim afraid to seek services or report the abuse to law enforcement.
Special Protections for Immigrant Survivors in VAWA
In 1994, VAWA “self-petitioning” was created to assist those victims married to U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident abusive spouses, who use their control over the victims’ immigration status as a tool of abuse (either failing to petition for them leaving victims without legal status or threatening to withdraw it).
In 2000, the U visa was created as a law enforcement tool, to encourage victims to come out of the shadows to report crimes to law enforcement and to protect victims who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of relevant crimes. To be eligible for a U visa, victims must obtain law enforcement certification demonstrating that they have assisted in a criminal investigation or prosecution. Likewise, the T visa was created to help victims of human trafficking and to gain their help in turn with investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.
In 2005, the “International Marriage Broker Regulation Act” was enacted to regulate the “mail-order bride” industry and make changes to the process by which Americans petition to sponsor visas for foreign fiancé(e)s and spouses to protect against abuse and exploitation.
Congress has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to these provisions in each reauthorization of VAWA, reflecting bipartisan recognition that domestic violence is a serious crime and public safety issue that cannot be fully addressed if all victims are not safe and all perpetrators are not held accountable.