“…Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand/A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of Exiles.” (from The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus)
For Mother’s Day this year, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee decided to forgo enhancing the traditionally-bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on reauthorization, and sent flowers and a heartfelt card to anti-immigrant allies instead. Immigrant women, especially unauthorized women, are more vulnerable to domestic violence and threats of deportation by an abusive spouse; rape, sexual abuse, and harassment in the workplace, and human trafficking. Since 1994, VAWA has provided crucial confidentiality and other protections to immigrant victims. Among other revisions to VAWA, the House bill that passed the Judiciary Committee last week (HR 4970) diminished the strong provisions protecting vulnerable immigrant women from their abusers.
This Mother’s Day message can only be read as an attempt to court the tough-on-immigration crowd at any cost: why else would anyone reduce protections to victims of domestic violence, deter victims from cooperating with law enforcement, and hold victims to a higher standard than other applicants for immigration benefits? Congress’ priorities are so askew in this election year, it is possible that the committee members did not even realize the incredibly poor timing of this decision that affects mothers, grandmothers, and children from all walks of life. HR 4970 will be on the House floor this week (scheduled for Wednesday May 16, subject to rule), and Congress has the chance to get its priorities in order. Those representatives who are yet undecided – and those willing to cross party lines to defeat the proposed revisions to VAWA, like Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) – must be reminded that it is not too late to send the right Mother’s Day message, and to the right recipients.