Politics vs. Policy: Violence Against Women Act Dustup in Senate

The Act itself, first passed 18 years ago, is in its essence uncontroversial, reauthorized twice with bipartisan support each time. The Act was last reauthorized in 2006, for five years.

Republicans have problems with this year's authorization in four areas, none of which deal directly with violence against women per se.

First, there is concern that under the new bill thousands of additional visas would be issued.

A U visa is given to victims of certain crimes for temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States, and some believe the updated law would increase the annual number of U visas.

"Visa numbers should not be increased without also addressing the fraud and making sure the finite number of visas available go to people that truly deserve them," a Republican aide said.

Second, Republicans fear the updated bill fails to address immigration fraud.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from witnesses at a July hearing about how foreign nationals prey on U.S. citizens to get a green card.

For example, witnesses explained that after saying "I do," the foreign national lodged false allegations, sometimes of physical abuse, to get out of the marriage, collect alimony and secure a green card. Witnesses said that their side of the story was never heard, because the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services handles all these green card applications at one remote service center that relies exclusively on paper; neither the the allegedly abused foreign national nor the accused citizen is interviewed.

Third, Republicans say the reauthorization grants authority to Indian tribal courts to bring criminal cases against non-Indians for the first time if the cases involve domestic violence. The committee has held no hearing exploring the ramifications of such a change on law enforcement operations or the ramifications on non-Indians, so Republicans do not believe that this should be included at this time in the reauthorization.

Fourth, Republicans say the bill does not sufficiently hold accountable grantees of the Violence Against Women Act for taxpayer dollars. They say that the Government Accountability Office has consistently found that the dollars are not tracked adequately enough to show results and effectiveness of the Violence Against Women Act programs, and that the inspector general has found money has been misused to the detriment of victims. Republicans want more oversight.

But Democrats say opposing the current version of the bill is equal to opposing the bill.

"It certainly shouldn't be controversial," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said on the Senate floor. "This one shouldn't be about politics. Protecting women against violence shouldn't be a partisan issue."

Republicans said they are not against the bill, but like any reauthorization, they want to reserve the right to take issue with the bill's new provisions.

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