The buzz on Capitol Hill right now is how, even in these times of hyper partisanship, domestic violence and the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) should not be up for debate. Yet amazingly enough, Democrats and Republicans have found ways to disagree on this no-brainer piece of legislation. Specifically, Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the bill’s provisions meant to help immigrant women who fall victim to abuse. They claim things like “immigrant women don’t need special protection,” or these provisions would “open the floodgates to new Visa applications.”
The book I’m in the midst of writing – Safe Haven – features the stories of two such immigrant women, one who was able to obtain citizenship thanks to VAWA. Akonte (not her real name) came to the United States from Nigeria when she was eight months pregnant with her son, to join her husband who was a legal resident. She entered the country illegally through Canada, and was thrown into further legal quagmire when she discovered soon after her arrival that her husband already had a wife in the US. After her son was born, her husband became increasingly violent and almost killed her. Akonte fled with her baby on her back to a shelter in Baltimore – with no money, no friends or family and little knowledge of how American society worked. The shelter hooked her up with an attorney who helped her through the painstaking, months-long process of obtaining citizenship.
The process was far from easy and was definitely not something she could have navigated on her own. In fact, she was initially turned down due to a bureaucratic error and had to reapply all over again. In the meantime, she was not allowed to work to support herself and her son because she did not have the correct visa. In the end, the process worked and Akonte now lives in her own apartment and has a good job. Thanks to VAWA, she was able to pick up her life and start again.
Help women like Akonte get the help they need to escape horrific abuse by urging Congress to set aside partisanship and reauthorize VAWA now.