Expanding Domestic Violence Deportation Grounds Does No Favors to Survivors

What's at stake in the immigration reform bill is whether or not we continue to perpetuate the harsh and short-sighted policies of our current immigration laws.
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What's at stake in the immigration reform bill is whether or not we continue to perpetuate the harsh and short-sighted policies of our current immigration laws. As the bill and proposed amendments stand today, we are headed down a path that will continue to criminalize immigrants and mandate wholesale lock up and deportation. We cannot afford to squander this moment; the outcome must be a set of fair and humane policies that consider the individual circumstances of the millions of undocumented and green card holders who live on American soil.

Of the hundreds of amendments introduced, the majority creates additional hurdles and obstacles designed to obstruct the path to citizenship and eliminate mechanisms that would allow the consideration of individual circumstances in all cases. Several provisions, including Senator Grassley's Amendment #46 and Senator Cornyn's #3 and #4, specifically target individuals involved in domestic violence disputes. Current immigration law already metes out harsh consequences to those who commit serious crimes, including domestic violence offenses. By introducing these amendments, Senators Grassley, Cornyn, and Sessions ignore the best interests of survivors and their children.

When we hear the terms domestic violence, we make certain assumptions about the perpetrator and victim, but the situations are far more nuanced and call for a measured, sensitive response that takes into consideration the wellbeing and security of everyone involved. Amendments offered by Senators Grassley, Sessions and Cornyn threaten survivors, in particular, because they unnecessarily increase the likelihood of victims' deportation in domestic violence cases, expand grounds of deportability, make victims more vulnerable to detention, and limit mechanisms to consider each individual case.

If a survivor fears that in reporting abuse, he or she will be deported, they are much less likely to seek help from law enforcement. And domestic violence survivors often reject policies that would remove their spouse or partner, an outcome that would be disastrous for families that rely on them for financial support. Lastly, victims often face challenges with regard to language, misinformation, uncertainty about their legal rights and limited access to immigration attorneys, which leaves them all the more vulnerable to punitive policies that do not take these facts into consideration.

Consider the case of Cindy, a Taiwanese student, who was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence changes for fighting off her attacker and biting his ear while she was being raped. After she was released pending trial, she spent time in a battered women's shelter, but still ended up being convicted. The jury determined that she had acted to defend herself, but the force that she used was greater than the assault. The jury found her guilty of felony domestic violence. In this particular state, felony domestic violence has an automatic sentencing of time in state prison. Not a U.S. citizen, Cindy could be subject to deportation after serving her prison time. Under our current proposals, she would be vulnerable to mandatory detention.

For these reasons, domestic violence and survivor groups have overwhelmingly opposed these so-called solutions and continue to oppose the reckless expansion of deportation grounds for domestic violence offenses.

Instead of these unfair approaches, we must support attempts to expand mechanisms that will allow judges and immigration agents to review and assess all the circumstances in someone's case; this is the only real way to ensure that wrongly accused victims who may have pled to or been unfairly convicted of domestic violence will not be mistakenly deported.

A description of the amendments below:

Grassley #46: Grassley #46 compounds the problems in the existing Senate bill by eliminating critical limitations on the new DV-related ground of inadmissibility, which will apply to all applicants for admission and lawful status (including VAWA self-petitioners, VAWA cancellation applicants and RPI applicants). Specifically, this amendment would eliminate the minimum sentence requirement in the current bill and makes any violation of a protection order a trigger for inadmissibility, instead of requiring a finding of criminal contempt by a court.

Cornyn #4: In the current bill, people with old deportation orders are allowed to apply. This amendment allows DHS to contact a victim if a waiver is granted. This amendment will have the opposite effect of reassuring victims that their public safety is the highest priority.

Cornyn #3: This amendment automatically excludes from legalization, with no possibility of discretion, several single misdemeanor convictions. This amendment will have the effect of excluding victims of domestic violence, someone whose only brush with the law was a bar fight, and a person with one DUI.

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