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Jayapal, Schakowsky, Espaillat, Panetta Introduce Legislation to Protect Immigrant Survivors of Violence

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 ensure survivors pursuing relief are not detained or deported before their applications are fully adjudicated.

“Survivors of crime must be able to come forward without fear of deportation, it’s that simple,” said Jayapal.“Immigrant women are significantly more likely to suffer domestic violence, nearly three times the national average. It is critical that we take steps to ensure that survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender-based violence are protected.”

“Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. We must ensure these women do 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.”

“Keeping communities safe is always my top priority, and the WISE Act will help in our efforts to improve safety by protecting victims regardless of their immigration status,” said Congressman Espaillat. “We know that immigrants are more likely to not report crimes against them because they fear detention and deportation, and we know this fear makes them more susceptible and at risk of abuse. We are introducing the WISE Act to ensure protections for immigrants who are victims of crimes and to ensure that these victims are able to receive justice, no matter what.” 

“Victims and witnesses who step out of the shadows and step forward to play a role in our justice system should not be at risk of being detained or deported while they wait for the processing of their visas,” said Rep. Panetta.“My Immigrant Witness and Victim Protection Act, which is included in the WISE Act, would expand protections and increase the number of U and T Visas available for immigrant witnesses and victims.  I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to pass this legislation that would provide more legal protections to those who cooperate with law enforcement and promote trust in our system of justice.”

Immigrant women and children are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence, and the rate of abuse against immigrant women is nearly 49 percent, three times the national average. While domestic violence is a consistently underreported issue, immigrant survivors are significantly less likely to report these crimes due to fear of 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. 
  • Restricting immigration enforcement at certain protected areas 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.

The legislation is sponsored by 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), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Greg Casar (TX-35), Sean Casten (IL-06), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Judy Chu (CA-28), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Barbara Lee (CA-12), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05); Rashida Tlaib (MI-12)

The WISE Act is also endorsed by African Communities Together; Alianza Americas; Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC; Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence; ASISTA Immigration Assistance; Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO); Bend the Arc: Jewish Action; Church World Service; Community Change Action; DeafHope; End SIJS Backlog Coalition; Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network); Freedom Network USA; Futures Without Violence; Immigration Hub; Indivisible; Jennifer Ann’s Group; Justice for Migrant Women; Kids in Need of Defense; National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR); National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence; National Council of Jewish Women; National Employment Law Project; 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 Partnership for New Americans; Oxfam America; Refugee Congress; Refugees International; South Asian SOAR; Tahirih Justice Center; The National Domestic Violence Hotline; Ujima Inc., The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community; U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI); VALOR; Voto Latino; Women’s Refugee Commission; Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights; Apna Ghar, Inc.; Ayuda; Daya Inc.; DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services Inc; GA Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Her Justice, Inc.; Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Immigrant Defenders Law Center; Immigration Center for Women and Children; Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Jane Doe Inc.; KAN-WIN; Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice; Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence; MetroWest Legal Services; Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence; New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence; NMIC; Northeast Justice Center; Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Ohio Domestic Violence Network; Raksha, Inc; Reflection of Inspiration Inc.; Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network; The Advocates for Human Rights; University of San Francisco Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic; UTOPIA Washington; Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Violence Free Minnesota; West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; ZeroV.

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, help is available at 800-799-7233 or by texting START to 88788.