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Letter: Victims' rights need strengthening

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada urges

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada urges Congress to pass the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act. He appeared on Capitol Hill with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), right. (May 10, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Regarding the editorial "A worthy law gummed up" [May 21], Newsday characterizes the Senate's additions to the Violence Against Women Act as "the hottest of hot-button issues," implying that this version is somehow radical, while in the process marginalizing immigrants, American Indians, and gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals.

VAWA has been expanded upon by bipartisan vote each of the two times that it was reauthorized since its inception in 1994. In 2000, Congress established special visas to protect immigrant victims of human trafficking and other crimes who are willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation of the criminal activity. The new version also added the related crimes of dating violence and stalking, as well as services for rural, disabled and older victims.

In the 2005 update, Congress added protections of victim information in public records and databases. The act improved protection for children of special visa recipients, and allowed trafficking victims whose physical or psychological trauma impedes the ability to cooperate with law enforcement to seek a waiver of this requirement. To ensure that these protections were being applied accurately, it required all VAWA cases to be adjudicated at the specially trained unit in Vermont.

The Senate's current version seeks to further remove barriers faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims, as well as American Indian women on reservations.

The current House version not only leaves out these protections but takes a significant step backward from the existing law by allowing immigration officials to interview an alleged offender in making a determination about a battered immigrant's petition for status. This jeopardizes the safety of the victims and opens the door to abusers manipulating the immigration process and causing further harm. Never before have policy-makers retreated on the core VAWA principles of victim safety.

This bill would also decentralize the VAWA immigration adjudication process, bypassing specially trained examiners.

Ruth A. Reynolds, Holbrook

Editor's note: The writer is the director of advocacy for the VIBS Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center.

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