Why Democrats' political ploys shouldn't stop Republicans from standing up for taxpayers on VAWA

In an obvious attempt to advance the “Republican war on women” narrative, Democrats have picked a fight with their congressional opponents over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

While Republicans want to use the reauthorization process to ensure that VAWA works as it was intended to work, Democrats want to use the process for political gain. To that end, the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill out of committee that excludes Republican measures to reduce fraud but includes other new and controversial provisions. Let’s call this new version of VAWA “the Leahy bill” after its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. No. 3 Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer promises to “fast-track” the Leahy bill to the floor, knowing that Republicans will object to it as they never would have objected to a straight reauthorization of VAWA.

Republicans know they run a political risk if they oppose the reauthorization of a widely popular bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support since its passage in 1994. So, it follows that they must have decent reasons to oppose it, right?

In fact, they do — and the No. 1 reason is that they want VAWA grant funds to actually go to victims of domestic violence, which is not always the case today. It is concern for women and for all victims of domestic violence that motivates Republican opposition to the reauthorization of VAWA — not any kind of nefarious, perfidious agenda against women.

Let’s consider two of the provisions included in the bill today that weren’t in it in 1994 or in subsequent reauthorizations. VAWA right now provides for 10,000 U-visas, which are available to immigrants who are likely to aid in certain criminal law investigations. Senate Republican background information illuminates the potential for fraud inherent in the way U-visas are currently granted:

  • The purpose of the U-visa is to aid law enforcement in investigations.  Immigrants who are here illegally as well as immigrants who are not in the country may apply for a U-visa.  There is no requirement that the U-visa recipient actually aid in an investigation or that there even be investigation underway.  The immigrant may stay here for 4 years under a U-visa.  After 3 years, a U-visa recipient may apply for an adjustment of status and become a legal permanent resident.  This creates a breeding ground for fraud because illegal immigrants that are currently in deportation proceedings may apply for a U-visa with intention of actually aiding law enforcement.
  • The Leahy bill creates 5K more U-visas annually, but lacks needed provisions to ensure that the purpose of the visa is fulfilled.

Until Congress confirms that the 10,000 U-visas granted annually already actually do aid law enforcement, how does providing for more visas do anything to combat domestic violence?

Note that opposing an increase in the number of U-visas available does not amount to objecting to visa access for illegal immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence. In fact, while the Judiciary Committee considered the bill, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa proposed an amendment that would have ensured recipients of the U-visas actually do aid in law enforcement proceedings. The amendment would have required that the crime on which the visa is based be reported within 60 days of its occurrence, that the statute of limitations has not run on the crime and that the crime be under active investigation or prosecution. Democrats rejected the Grassley amendment. Why wouldn’t Democrats want to ensure the U-visas go to the immigrants for whom they’re intended?

Here’s background information about a second troubling provision in the Leahy bill:

  • In a dramatic break from legal precedent, the Leahy bill gave criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian individuals to Indian Tribes.
  • A hearing was never held on this provision, so the consequences of such a drastic measure are unknown.
  • While the bill’s jurisdiction is limited to domestic violence offenses, once such an extension of jurisdiction is established, there would be no principled reason not to extend it to other offenses as well.
  • A non-Indian subject to tribal jurisdiction would enjoy few meaningful civil-rights protections.  Courts have held, for example, that tribal governments are not bound by the Constitution’s First, Fifth, or Fourteenth Amendments.
Again, these are provisions that weren’t in the original version of VAWA, which makes it easy to believe Grassley when he says, “If we had just a straight reauthorization, it would pass 100 percent.”
It’s not just that Democrats have inserted new provisions, though. It’s also that they refuse to consider measures that would ensure VAWA funds are used to protect victims of domestic violence. Consider:
  • In July 2010, the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department audited the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware, which received a Legal Assistance for Victims grant in the amount of $891,422. That audit resulted in the questioning of the use of 93 percent of those funds.
  • Similarly, a September 2005 audit of Legal Aid of Nebraska questioned the use of 64.5 percent of a $1,981,552 grant.
  • Most of the grantees audited by the DOJ/OIG in 2010 were found to have used some grant funds questionably and had often failed to properly document their use of the funds (21 out of 22 grantees audited).

Grassley’s amendment would have required the DOJ/OIG to audit 10 percent of all grantees annually and would have discontinued funds to grantees that used the funds for unallowable purposes. Democrats opposed that provision, as well.

Democrats not only show an enormous disregard for taxpayers by failing to even consider new oversight measures, but they also show an enormous disregard for the victims of domestic violence. That they would play politics with this bill is appalling.

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