On January 2, 2013, the United States 112th Congress officially ran out its term and did not vote the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for reauthorization. VAWA, drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994, funded investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. VAWA also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. The law has been reauthorized roughly every five years, largely without dispute, since its inception, but not in 2012.
For many immigrant victims of domestic violence, battery, and extreme cruelty, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members who would sponsor their applications threaten to withhold legal immigration sponsorship as a tool of abuse. Because of this, VAWA created provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for battered immigrants to petition for themselves. These provisions allow battered immigrants to self-petition for legal status in the U.S., without relying on abusive U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouses, parents or children to sponsor them. VAWA provisions have made available many other immigration benefits to victims of domestic violence. They apply equally to women and men.
Fortunately, the failure to reauthorize VAWA will likely have no impact on existing VAWA provisions, codified in the INA. The INA remains the same unless and until Congress changes or repeals it. Thus, eligible abused individuals who qualify under the VAWA provisions in the INA may continue to apply for and receive such benefits.