Congress Passes Violence Against Women Act, Abused Immigrants to Get Visas

The House of Representatives passed a far-reaching extension of the Violence Against Women Act, ensuring protections to abused immigrants and Native Americans, as well as gay, lesbians and transgender people.

President Obama is expected to sign it once it gets to his desk.

One of the bill’s most hotly debated measures was giving undocumented women who are domestic violence victims to U.S. citizen or permanent resident husbands a chance to apply for a visa.

We want to help all women who are faced with violent, abusive and dangerous situations

— Eric Cantor,

This part of the law has traditionally drawn widespread opposition from Republicans, the argument being that it rewards illegal behavior. But many in law enforcement have supported it because it allows for a section of the population that traditionally stays mum to report crimes.

Abused immigrant women are less likely to report abuse for various reasons, such as fear of deportation, according to a report National Institute of Justice. Hispanic women are also less likely to report abuse than non-Hispanic women, but more likely to be abused.

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Thursday's 286-138 vote came after House Republican leaders, cognizant of divisions in their own ranks and the need to improve their faltering image among women voters, accepted a bill cleared by the Senate two weeks ago on a strong bipartisan vote.

It was the third time this year that House Speaker John Boehner allowed Democrats and moderates in his own party to prevail over the GOP's much larger conservative wing. As with a Jan. 1 vote to avoid the fiscal cliff and legislation to extend Superstorm Sandy aid, a majority of House Republicans voted against the final anti-violence bill.

The 1994 law has been renewed twice before without controversy, but it lapsed in 2011 as it was caught up in the partisan battles that now divide Congress.

Last year, the House refused to go along with a Senate-passed bill that would have made clear that groups such as lesbians, gays, immigrants and Native American women would have equal access to Violence Against Women Act programs.

The GOP decision to show the white flag this time came after the party's poor showing among women in last fall's election and Democratic success in framing the debate over the Violence Against Women Act as Republican policy hostile to women.

President Barack Obama won 55 percent of the women's vote last November. Republican presidential candidates haven't won the women's vote since 1984, when Ronald Reagan held a 12-point lead over Walter Mondale among women.

The Senate passed its bill on a 78-22 vote with every Democrat, every woman senator and 23 of 45 Republicans supporting it.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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