Following news that leadership in the House of Representatives plans to eliminate key protections for women who are victims of domestic violence, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblywoman Grace Meng gathered with advocates at Queens Borough Hall to unveil legislation maintaining these protections in New York State.
“The role of government is to defend the most vulnerable among us, those who cannot defend themselves,” said Stavisky.
Under current law, the federal Violence Against Women Act protects the confidentiality of both the identities and statements of all victims and witnesses of domestic violence who report abusers to police.
The reauthorization bill pending in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL), would eliminate this protection for any victim or witness who is in the United States without documentation.
This version of the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 9, and is awaiting a vote by the full chamber.
“All victims of domestic violence, including those without documentation, must feel safe seeking help from our criminal justice system,” said Meng.
Several important provisions which Republicans are seeking to cut, including a path to citizenship for cooperative witnesses and the issuance of visas, fall outside the purview of the New York State legislature.
However, the legislature does have jurisdiction over state and local law enforcement and the court system. The forthcoming Stavisky-Meng New York State Violence Against Women bill would:
• Mandate confidentiality of testimony in the handling of domestic violence cases, regardless of the immigration status of the victim.
• Bar state and local law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status of victims or witnesses during the investigation of a domestic violence complaint, or from turning victims seeking assistance over to federal immigration authorities.
• Allow judges to consider whether a convicted abuser threatened the victim with deportation as an aggravating circumstance during sentencing
“With or without documentation, any woman can become the victim of domestic violence,” said Ann Jawin, founder of the Center for the Women of New York. “It is simply not right for our government to decide that some women are entitled to justice and some are not.”
“QLS has worked with thousands of immigrant domestic violence survivors and we have seen the countless ways in which batterers use the system, including threats of immigration reporting, as a means to keep victims in a cycle of abuse and isolation,” said Jennifer Ching, Executive Director of Queens Legal Services, which operates the Asian Battered Women’s Law Project and Domestic Violence Law & Advocacy Project.