In the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans removed parts of provisions granting immigrants who gain residence on the basis of marriage the right to claim abuse and then file for permanent residence status without cooperation from their spouses. Ordinarily, if you marry an American and want to become a resident, you have to go through a process that proves your marriage was not simply for the purposes of gaining residence, but actually a bona-fide marriage. The entire process takes a few years, and involves interviews, forms, and other bureaucratic hurdles. Your husband or wife has to cooperate, so if the marriage falls apart quickly, you could face loss of legal residence status and have to leave the US.
However, VAWA provides a loophole. A spouse can claim abuse, and if she has any evidence, such as a police report or medical records, she may be able to leave their husband and still become a permanent resident. Given how easy it is to have American men arrested (all it takes is a phone call and an allegation, and false accusations of domestic violence are rarely if ever punished), this provision is an invitation to make a creative accusation. Additionally, making a police report is a simple matter, and one can say just about anything to the cops. However, what makes it even worse is that the process is confidential. What this means is that a foreign wife can accuse the husband without him even knowing that she is doing so, leaving him no opportunity to defend himself. Furthermore, he cannot access any of the information submitted to the federal government in an effort to defend himself in civil or criminal court, nor can he submit evidence to the Department of Homeland Security, which leaves the alleged victim free to say whatever she wants, whether it is consistent with local court affidavits or not. This setup stacks the deck so heavily against the accused that it’s practically asking immigrant women to accuse their husbands of domestic violence.
Of course, MSM editorials have mainly weighed in against the proposed changes. From the LA Times:
Eliminating the confidentiality provision is one of several changes House Republicans would like to make to weaken the law. They argue that the changes are necessary to combat fraud, in which immigrants falsely claim to have been abused in order to obtain visas. But where are the data and studies that indicate that fraud is a problem? Immigrant victims who petition for visas under VAWA are already required to supply ample evidence of abuse, such as police reports or medical records. And applications undergo intense scrutiny. In fiscal 2011, immigration officials denied nearly a third of those petitions.
You’ve got to love the logic here. The writer says fraud must not be a problem, because one third of these petitions are denied!
Because the war on violence against women is such a high priority in our country and feminism has enormous political power, women are usually given the benefit of the doubt. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the local police stopped responding to domestic dispute calls without clear evidence? There’d be enormous outrage from the usual quarters. So, if a third of the women claiming to have been abused are facing rejection, it’s a pretty clear sign that there’s a lot of fraud going on. It means a whole lot of them are lying. Given the numbers, a whole lot of them must be getting away with it, too.
The Republicans are right to remove the confidentiality provisions, because it’s important for officials to hear both sides of the story, and the accused should always have the opportunity to defend themselves from being placed on a government blacklist. Neither men nor women have a monopoly on truth, but the VAWA confidentiality provision effectively grants just that to whichever spouse decides to file a petition. Removing it is a small, but helpful step in both family law and immigration reform.
To put things in perspective, immigration fraud is not the usual outcome in international marriages, but it is enough of a problem to be worth dealing with.