Congressman Faleomavaega today announced that the House, by a vote of 222-205, approved the controversial Republican-authored legislation, H.R. 4970, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In a statement submitted for the record, the Congressman noted his support for the reauthorization of VAWA, but preferred instead the Senate Democratic-authored reauthorization bill, S 1925, that was passed earlier by the Senate with wide bipartisan support.
The full text of the Congressman’s statement is inserted below.
It is with great pleasure to rise today in support of the Violence Against Women Act. In doing so, I am reminded of an old Samoan belief that the female siblings are the “tama sa” or sacred child in the family. They are to be treated with respect, care and love -- offenders of this ancient taboo often faced extreme consequences. Mr. Speaker, I am in full support of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
While I fully support reauthorization of an Act of Congress that since 1994 has been an essential tool to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence, I do however have some major concerns with H.R. 4970, legislation before us today. Unlike the Senate reauthorization bill, S. 1925, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Crapo and was passed by the Senate last month with strong bipartisan support, H.R. 4970 introduced by my colleague Ms. Sandy Adams, will effectively bring more harm than protect victims of domestic violence.
Mr. Speaker, unlike S. 1925, H.R. 4970 offers no protection for Indian spouses abused on tribal land. Under a 1978 Supreme Court decision, non-Indians cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts for crimes committed on tribal land. Last July, the Justice Department recommended that Congress give tribes local authority to prosecute non-Indians in misdemeanor domestic and dating violence cases.
Mr. Speaker, the Senate reauthorization bill, S. 1925, will do just that. It will recognize certain tribes’ concurrent jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence persons who assault Indian spouses, intimate partners, or dating partners, or who violate protection orders, in Indian country. It recognizes that tribal nations may be best able to address in their own communities – neither the United States nor any State would lose any criminal jurisdiction as a result. Mr. Speaker, H.R. 4970 on the other hand, completely ignores this ongoing injustice against Indian spouses, wives or partners, on tribal lands.
I am also disappointed that certain provisions in H.R. 4970 would strip away some of the existing protection for immigrant victims of abusive relationships. As it stands now, VAWA allows battered immigrants to petition for their own immigrant status, independent of their abusive spouses and thus freeing them from their spouse’s abuse and control. If enacted however, H.R. 4970 will allow immigration officers to interview an alleged offender and consider the information obtained in making a determination about the adjudication of a battered immigrant’s petition for status. This allows abusers to manipulate the immigration process to cause further harm on the victim. Moreover, it will reveal confidential information necessary to protect the victim and her children from the unwanted advances of an abusive spouse or partner.
Mr. Speaker, in the ancient Samoan culture, it is a great shame to the male sibling if any harm or injury happens to the “sacred child”. It is within this cultural context, and also with a deep sense of fairness and justice that I urge my colleagues to pass the Senate reauthorization bill. The house bill H.R. 4970, while it was written with good intention, does not do justice for the women of this country.
I yield back the balance of my time.
The Congressman further added, “Because the Senate and House may not be able to resolve the differences in the two reauthorization bills, existing programs and funding under VAWA face imminent cuts, hence, putting those critical programs in jeopardy.”
“However, this is an opportunity for our local leaders to take a hard look at our existing laws and to find ways to improve protection for women. I would specifically like for our Attorney General to render an opinion whether our laws are strong enough to protect women from all kinds of abuse.”
“It is sad to see the latest findings in the UNICEF report on violence against women and children. Unfortunately, societal attitudes that convey acceptance or justification of domestic violence still exist in our societies today.”
“Protecting women from any form of abuse is an obligation for our leaders, not only in the context of fairness and justice, but also from a cultural perspective,” Congressman Faleomavaega concluded.