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Jayapal, Schakowsky, Espaillat, Panetta Introduce the Working for Immigrant Safety and Empowerment (WISE) Act

The WISE Act would ensure that immigrant survivors of domestic violence have robust and timely access to protections

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) today introduced the Working for Immigrant Safety and Empowerment (WISE) Act to protect immigrant survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender-based violence. The bill would ensure that immigrants have access to protections intended by the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA), and other federal and state laws. The bill would also move to ensure survivors pursuing relief are not detained or deported before their applications are fully adjudicated.

“Protections for survivors of crime goes beyond immigration—this is about the safety and well-being of communities and families across the country. Survivors of gender-based violence, child abuse, human trafficking, and crime must be able to come forward without fear to seek safety and we must provide them with the necessary support to leave abusive situations. With this bill, we are reiterating our commitment to protect immigrant survivors, to empower them to seek help, and to ensure their safety is not tied up with their ability to stay in this country,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. 

“Immigrant women faced with domestic violence make up one of the most vulnerable populations in this country. These women should not feel forced to stay in violent, life-threatening intimate partner relationships because of their tenuous immigration status,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. “I am proud to co-lead the WISE Act to help ensure that all victims of domestic violence, regardless of immigration status, have access to the public resources and support they need to escape abuse.”

“Immigrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and gender-based assaults deserve protections regardless of their immigration status,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat. “Immigrant survivors are less likely to report a crime in fear of detention and deportation, which makes them even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These crimes are dehumanizing and reprehensible. We must do what it takes to ensure protections are in place and victims feel empowered to seek assistance. I am proud to join my colleagues in this effort to reaffirm our commitment to victims of violence when they need our help the most.”  

“Victims of crimes, documented or undocumented, deserve justice.  However, in order to ensure that our justice system works for all victims and to hold perpetrators of crimes accountable, victims need to trust our justice system, cooperate with the police and prosecutors, and be assured that there will be no further harm incurred to them, including the threat of deportation.  U and T Visas provide undocumented victims with the security to stay here and the confidence to work with and trust law enforcement so that they receive the assistance and justice that they deserve,” said Congressman Jimmy Panetta.  “My Immigrant Witness and Victim Protection Act would expand the protections and increase the number of U and T Visas, and, ultimately, the trust of undocumented victims.  I’m proud that my bill is included in the WISE Act and look forward to working with Representatives Jayapal and and Espaillat to push the bill to become law, protect undocumented victims, and promote their cooperation with law enforcement so that our system of justice works for everybody in our communities.”

Immigrant women and children are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence, and immigrant women face intimate partner violence at three times the national average. And while domestic violence remains a widely underreported issue, immigrant survivors of crime are less likely to report a crime committed against them due to fear of detention and deportation.

The WISE Act would strengthen protections for immigrant survivors by:

  • Eliminating arbitrary caps on the U Visa and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
  • Expanding qualifying crimes for the U Visa to include hate crimes, child abuse, and elder abuse as well as grant protections for abused children, stepchildren, spouses, and parents of immigrant survivors. 
  • Granting work authorization to survivors while their applications are pending. 
  • Prohibiting detention and deportation of immigrant survivors while their cases are pending. 
  • Limiting the use or disclosure of information pertaining to a pending immigrant survivor’s VAWA, T, U, or SIJ applications. 
  • Limiting immigration enforcement at certain protected locations including any domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, supervised visitation center, family justice center, or victim services providers, among other locations.  
  • Ensuring survivors have the support necessary to thrive and reduce reliance on abusers by providing access to certain assistance, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), and Medicaid.

Non-profit and advocacy organizations issued the following statements of support following the introduction of the WISE Act:

““API-GBV applauds Representative Jayapal, Schakowsky, and Espaillat for their leadership in making sure that the needs of immigrant survivors of domestic violence are lifted up.  The WISE bill takes important steps in ensuring that survivors in our communities can access vital protections in the Violence Against Women Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as intended by Congress, making our communities safer,” said Grace Huang, Policy Director at the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence and Co-chair of the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors.

“Immigrant child survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other harms urgently need the WISE Act’s protections. Among its key reforms, this legislation would eliminate the needless Special Immigrant Juvenile visa cap, delivering safety and stability to abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the United States who would otherwise languish in legal limbo. KIND commends Representatives Jayapal, Schakowsky, and Espaillat for standing up for these vulnerable youth,” said Wendy Young, President of KIND. 

Co-sponsors include Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Judy Chu (CA-27), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Andy Levin (MI-09), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13)

Endorsing organizations include Advocating Opportunity; African Communities Together; Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence; ASISTA Immigration Assistance; Center for Gender & Refugee Studies; Church World Service; Communities United for Status & Protection (CUSP); Community Change Action ; ENDSIJS Backlog Coalition; Esperanza United; Freedom Network USA; Futures Without Violence; Haitian Bridge Alliance; Human Rights First; Immigration Equality Action Fund; Indivisible; Jewish Women International (JWI); Justice for Migrant Women; Kids in Need of Defense; Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund; National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; National CAPACD- National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development; National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; National Council of Jewish Women; The National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Immigration Law Center; National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC); National Network to End Domestic Violence; National Organization for Women; National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault; National Partnership for New Americans; National Partnership for Women & Families; National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; Oxfam America; Save the Children; Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative at LMU Loyola Law School; Tahirih Justice Center; The Advocates for Human Rights; U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI); ValorUS; Women’s Refugee Commission; Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights; Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice; Apna Ghar, Inc. (Our Home); Asian Women United of MN; California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Central American Resource Center of Northern CA – CARECEN SF; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA); Columbia Legal Services; Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network); Her Justice, Inc.; Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project; Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence; KAN-WIN; Los Angeles LGBT Center; Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants; Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence; New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence; North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Ohio Domestic Violence Network; OneAmerica; Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape; Raksha, Inc; Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network; University of San Francisco Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic; VIDA Legal Assistance Inc; Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center