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PRIORITY  RECOMMENDATIONS  BY  LEADING  NATIONAL  EXPERTS  TO   ADDRESS  VIOLENCE  AGAINST  WOMEN  IN   COMPREHENSIVE  IMMIGRATION  REFORM

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  April  8,  2013     As  Congress  considers  how  to  meaningfully  reform  the  nation’s  immigration  laws  and  system,  it  has  a  special   obligation  to  safeguard  and  enhance  protections  for  immigrant  survivors  of  domestic  violence,  sexual  assault,   human  trafficking  and  other  abuses.  Immigration  reform  is  critical  to  help  prevent  vulnerability  to  abuse  and   exploitation.   Indeed,   many   immigrant   women   find   themselves   in   abusive   or   exploitative   situations   in   their   homes  and  workplaces  due  to  their  lack  of  immigration  status.  Abusive  partners,  opportunistic  predators,  and   manipulative  employers  often  exploit  a  victim’s  lack  of  immigration  status,  or  dependent  immigration  status,   as   a   way   to   maintain   power   and   control   and   to   keep   victims   silent.   Unfortunately,   despite   current   humanitarian   provisions   of   US   immigration   law   intended   to   reduce   these   vulnerabilities,   many   obstacles   to   immigrant  survivors’  access  to  safety  and  justice  still  remain.     Other  immigrant  women  and  girls  fear  gender-­‐based  persecution  in  their  home  countries  –  such  fundamental   human   rights   abuses   as   domestic   violence   (severe,   sustained   and   unaddressed   by   the   authorities),   rape   (including   as   a   weapon   of   war),   human   trafficking,   female   genital   mutilation,   “honor”   crimes,   and   forced   marriage  –  and  seek  safe  haven  in  the  United  States.  A  profound  lack  of  clarity,  consistency  and  coherence  in   how  such  gender-­‐based  asylum  cases  are  currently  handled  by  adjudicators  around  the  country  compromises   their  access  to  safety  and  justice,  and  again,  exposes  them  to  the  risk  of  further  violence  and  victimization.     While  protections  currently  provided  under  the  Violence  Against  Women  Act  (VAWA),  the  Trafficking  Victims   Protection   Act,   and   US   asylum   laws   help   some   of   these   particularly   vulnerable   survivors,   clarifying   and   strengthening  these  forms  of  protection  so  that  no  survivor  falls  through  the  cracks  is  urgently  needed.       Any   comprehensive   immigration   reform   effort   must   pay   sharp   attention   to   the   needs   of   survivors   of   domestic   violence,   sexual   assault,   human   trafficking   and   other   gender-­‐based   human   rights   abuses.   Leading   national   experts  and  advocates  for  immigrant  survivors  urge  the  following  8  key  legislative  reforms1:         Immigrant  Survivors  of  Domestic  and  Sexual  Violence  and  Human  Trafficking  (VAWA,  T,  and  U  Visa  Reforms)     1. Ensure   that   any   path   to   legalization,   if   it   offers   that   path   as   well   to   spouses   and   children   (derivatives)  of  eligible  immigrants,  also  includes  protections  in  case  of  abuse.  While  the  precise  form   of  this  protection  will  depend  on  the  proposal  and  mechanisms  for  legalization,  the  principle  is  clear;  if   abused   immigrants   rely   for   their   own   legal   status   on   a   spouse   or   parent,   they   should   be   provided   with   an   opportunity   to   independently   petition   for   legal   status   rather   than   have   to   choose   between   deportation  and  continued  abuse.2    

                                                                                                               
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 The   priority   recommendations   included   here   are   not   exhaustive;   we   have   identified   additional   legislative   reforms   for   immigrant   survivors  of  domestic  violence,  sexual  assault,  human  trafficking,  and  other  gender-­‐based  human  rights  abuses  in  a  separate  document.   The   priority   recommendations   included   here   also   are   not   exclusive;   we   support   other   key   reforms   identified   and   championed   by   other   groups   advocating   to   promote   the   needs   and   interests   of   women   in   immigration   reform   generally,   or   to   protect   human   trafficking   victims  and  asylum-­‐seekers  specifically.  The  priority  recommendations  in  this  document  are  intended  to  elevate  and  underscore  critical   reforms  that  uniquely  or  especially  impact  immigrant  women  survivors  of  violence.  
   

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 Congress   has   a   history   of   recognizing   pathways   for   abused   immigrants   who   may   rely   on   abusive   spouses   and   parents   for   their   status.     INA  101(a)(51)  broadly  defines  a  VAWA  self-­‐petitioner  as  an  abused  individual,  or  child  of  an  individual  eligible  for  seven  different  types   of  relief  on  the  basis  of  having  a  qualifying  relationship  with  a  US  citizen,  legal  permanent  resident,  or  a  principal  applicant  for  relief   (e.g.,  NACARA  and  Cuban-­‐adjustment  Act  principals),  and  having  suffered  battery  or  extreme  cruelty.  

 

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2. Issue   employment   authorization   documents   (EADs)   for   VAWA   self-­‐petitioners,   U   visa   and   T   visa   applicants   who   currently   struggle   to   survive   during   the   long   pendency   of   their   applications.   This   critically   needed   reform,   identified   as   a   top   priority   by   advocates   working   with   immigrant   survivors   around   the   United   States,   would   support   survivors’   self-­‐sufficiency   and   remove   vulnerabilities   to   further  victimization.  Due  to  lengthy  delays  in  the  adjudication   (up   to   16   months   or   longer)  of  these   applications   and   lack   of   access   to   financial   resources,   survivors   face   additional   risks   of   violence,   exploitation,   manipulation,   and   trauma,   including   losing   custody   of   children.   When   an   abused   immigrant   does   not   have   an   EAD,   the   ripple   effects   are   acutely   debilitating.     Without   work   authorization,  an  immigrant  victim  faces  many  difficulties  demonstrating  to  a  family  court  judge  how   she   will   provide   for   her   children,   she   is   unable   to   obtain   a   driver’s   license,   and   may   encounter   significant  barriers  to  accessing  transitional  housing  services  or  renting  an  apartment.         3. Improve   access   of   immigrant   survivors   to   critical   safety-­‐net   benefits   that   enable   them   to   escape   abuse   and   exploitation.   Incorporate   provisions   of   the   Women   Immigrant   Safe   Harbor   (WISH)   Act   to   include   U   visa   holders   as   “qualified   aliens”3  and   to   eliminate   the   five-­‐year   bar   to   accessing   public   benefits   for   VAWA   self-­‐petitioners   and   U   visa   holders;   clarify   housing   laws   to   ensure   abused   immigrants  have  access  to  public  and  subsidized  housing.  
 

4. Strengthen   the   U   visa   program   by   increasing   the   number   of   U   visas   annually   available,   from   the   current   10,000   annual   cap   to   at   least   15,000.  Congress  created  the  U  visa  in  “VAWA  2000,”  to  provide   protections   to   immigrant   victims   of   certain   enumerated   serious   crimes   (including   domestic   violence   and  rape).  Congress  envisioned  the  U  visa  as  a  powerful  tool  for  law  enforcement:  to  promote  public   safety   by   encouraging   immigrant   victims   to   come   forward,   report   crimes,   and   cooperate   with   law   enforcement  in  investigations  and  prosecutions.  
 

5. Include   child   abuse   and   elder   abuse   as   U   visa   qualifying   crimes   to  protect  these  already  vulnerable   populations  from  abuse,  and  to  promote  reports  and  prosecutions.    
    Immigrant  Survivors  of  Gender-­‐Based  Persecution  (Asylum  Reforms)     Ensure   that   women   and   girls   fleeing   fundamental   human   rights   violations   have   access   to   refugee   protection   in  the  United  States,  by  enacting  reforms  to:     6. Remove  legal  obstacles  posed  to  gender-­‐based  claims  and  clarify  legal  standards  to  ensure  that  such   claims   are   properly   recognized.   (Proposals   in   the   Refugee   Protection   Act   of   2013   (“RPA”)/   (S.645),   Section  5).       We  especially  urge  that  Congress  clarify  what  can  constitute  a  “particular  social  group”  (the  statutory   ground  under  which  many  asylum  claims  by  women  and  girls  are  brought);  what  kinds  of  evidence  can   support  such  claims  (evidence  not  only  of  the  persecutor’s  intent,  but  also  evidence  that  women  and   girls   in   that   country   cannot   access   protection   from   persecution);   and   that   asylum   seekers   must   be   given   a   reasonable   opportunity   to   explain   any   inconsistent   statements   and   to   obtain   corroborating   evidence  deemed  necessary  by  an  immigration  judge.  Inconsistences  may  arise  in  an  individual’s  case   because   of   the   cultural   taboos   and   personal   trauma   involved   in   speaking   of   violations   like   female   genital   mutilation   or   rape.   For   example,   a   woman   may   not   reveal   to   a   male   border   inspector   who   initially   questions   her   that   she   was   raped   by   her   persecutor,   but   may   later   –   after   working   with   a   therapist  and  with  the  support  of  an  advocate  –  testify  to  having  been  sexually  assaulted.  Reasonable   explanations  for  such  inconsistencies  must  be  taken  into  full  and  fair  account.  

                                                                                                               
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 As  defined  in  Section  431(c)  of  the  Personal  Responsibility  and  Work  Opportunity  Reconciliation  Act  of  1996  (8  U.S.C.  1641(c))  

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7. Eliminate   the   asylum   filing   deadline   that   applies   to   all   asylum   claims   and   impacts   women   particularly  harshly4,  and  remediate  past  injustices  caused  by  the  deadline  by  permitting  individuals   granted   withholding   rather   than   asylum   to   adjust   their   status   to   legal   permanent   resident.   (Proposals  in  the  RPA,  Section  3)     The   one-­‐year   filing   deadline   has   had   a   devastating   impact   on   refugee   women   and   girls   fearing   persecution,  preventing  them  from  obtaining  protection  or  sharply  limiting  the  kinds  of  relief  for  which   they  qualify.  Women  escaping  domestic  violence,  rape,  female  genital  cutting,  or  other  gender-­‐based   harms   may   fail   to   file   within   one   year   of   arrival   for   legitimate   reasons,   such   as   suffering   from   Post   Traumatic   Stress   Disorder   (PTSD)   caused   by   their   past   persecution,   or   out   of   fear   of   being   stigmatized.   While  regulatory  exceptions  to  the  deadline  contemplate  PTSD  and  other  compelling  reasons  for  delay,   adjudicators   narrowly   construe   the   exceptions   and   refuse   to   waive   the   deadline   in   such   cases.   In   addition,  the  regulatory  exceptions  to  the  one-­‐year  filing  deadline  do  not  expressly  reference  the  many   compelling   but   “ordinary”   circumstances   that   can   reasonably   prevent   a   woman   from   fleeing   persecution  from  filing  for  asylum  within  her  first  year  in  the  United  States,  such  as  being  consumed  by   the   challenges   of   surviving   in   a   new   country;   not   knowing   that   they   can   ask   for   asylum   at   all   and   specifically  from  gender-­‐based  persecution,  let  alone  that  they  are  “on  the  clock”  to  submit  a  timely   application;   and   resisting   applying   for   asylum   until   they   absolutely   must,   since   by   taking   that   drastic   step  they  may  be  forever  severing  ties  with  their  family  and  community,  as  well  as  country.       8.   Permit   derivative   asylum   status   to   extend   to   parents   and   siblings   under   18   of   a   child   who   is   the   principal  asylee,   to   ensure   that   parent-­‐protectors   of   a   child   at   risk   of   persecution   in   her   home   country   (e.g.,   female   genital   mutilation)   are   allowed   to   remain   with   their   child   in   the   United   States;   to   prevent   the   permanent   separation   of   an   entire   family   being   the   price   of   one   child’s   protection;   and   to   harmonize  asylum  derivative  provisions  with  T  and  U  visa  derivative  provisions.    

*These  recommendations  were  prepared  and  endorsed  by  a  national  committee  of  leading  experts  on  existing   protections   –  and  protection  gaps   –  in  US  laws  affecting  refugee  and  immigrant   women  survivors   of   domestic   violence,   sexual   assault,     human   trafficking,   and   gender-­‐based   persecution,   including   ASISTA   Immigration   Assistance,  Casa  de  Esperanza:  National  Latin@  Network  for  Healthy  Families  and  Communities,  The  Center  for   Gender   and   Refugee   Studies,  The   Coalition   to   Abolish   Slavery   and   Trafficking   (CAST),   National  Immigrant  Justice   Center,   National   Immigration   Project   of   the   National   Lawyers   Guild,   the   Tahirih   Justice   Center   and   the   Washington  State  Coalition  Against  Domestic  Violence.     For  more  information  or  to  meet  to  discuss  these  priorities  and  proposals,  please  contact  Cecelia  Levin,  ASISTA   Immigration  Assistance  (cecelia@asistahelp.org)  or  Jeanne  Smoot,  Tahirih  Justice  Center  (jeanne@tahirih.org).    

                                                                                                               
 

4  DHS   has   concluded   that   the   asylum   filing   deadline   should   be   eliminated,   confirming   that   the   agency   expends   resources   without  

helping   uncover   or   deter   fraud   (UNHCR   Washington   Office,   Reaffirming   Protection,   October   2011,   Summary   Report,   p.   18,   at   http://www.unhcrwashington.org/atf/cf/%7BC07EDA5EAC71-­‐4340-­‐8570-­‐194D98BDC139%7D/georgetown.pdf).   The   Administration   has   publicly   pledged   to   work   with   Congress   to   eliminate   the   deadline   (U.S.   Department   of   State,   PRM   Fact   Sheet:   U.S.   Commemorations  Pledges,  7  December  2011,  available  at  http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/factsheets/2011/181020.htm).  Several   studies   underscore   this   problem   including   Human   Rights   First,   The   Asylum   Filing   Deadline,   (New   York:   2010)   available   at   http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wpcontent/uploads/pdf/afd.pdf   and   P.   Schrag,   A.   Schoenholtz,   J.   Ramji-­‐Nogales,   and   J.P.   Dombach,   Rejecting   Refugees:   Homeland   Security’s   Administration   of   the   One-­‐Year   Bar   to   Asylum,   William   and   Mary   Law   Review,   (2010),   available   at   http://wmlawreview.org/files/Schrag.pdf.   For   a   further   examination   of   the   harsh   implications   of   the   one-­‐year   bar   on   women  and  girls  seeking  asylum,  see  report  of  the  Tahirih  Justice  Center,  Precarious  Protection:  How  Unsettled  Policy  and  Current  Laws   Harm   Women   and   Girls   Fleeing   Persecution   (October   2009)   at   pp.   33-­‐39   and   Appendix   C,   pp.   45-­‐46,   available   at   http://www.tahirih.org/site/wp-­‐content/uploads/2009/10/tahirihreport_precariousprotection.pdf.  

 

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