Congress is currently working on reauthorizing the federal Violence Against Women Act. Under the current law, the identities of victims of domestic violence, as well as witnesses, are protected when they seek help from the proper authorities.
The pending legislation in the House of Representatives would remove this protection for those in the country illegally.
That means an undocumented resident who finds themselves in an abusive relationship will have to risk deportation if they choose to end the cycle of violence, which not only affects them, but also children and others in the community.
Kids who find themselves in households where abuse is prevalent often act out in disruptive matters, affecting their schoolwork and classmates at best; leading them into a life on the streets to avoid the problems at home.
It’s well documented that many people in abusive relationships tend to stay or not report the violence because they believe that their abuser will go back to being the person that they initially fell in love with, or that the abuse is somehow their fault.
They are stuck in a cycle of violence that unfortunately ends only when something horrible happens, or they finally find the courage to come forward and report their abuser.
If people who have no fear of deportation have such a difficult time reporting domestic abuse, imagine if reporting that abuse also makes you a criminal in the eyes of the law?
Two New York City lawmakers, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and State Senator Toby Stavisky, have introduced legislation to counter some of the measures in the federal reauthorization bill. Their bill would prevent law enforcement officers from releasing the identities of victims and witnesses, as well as prevent them from inquiring about immigration status.
It would also allow a judge when sentencing a convicted abuser to consider whether the threat of deportation was used as a deterrent to reporting the crime.
If the reauthorization bill is passed as proposed, New York State, with its rich history of immigration - which, unfortunately, does come with the added side effect of illegal immigration - needs to be at the forefront of this issue. We shouldn’t be so shortsighted in our efforts to rid our borders of illegal immigrants that we allow the victims of domestic abuse to become sacrificial lambs.