Chuck Grassley’s opposition to the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of my home state of Iowa, is opposed to passage of S. 1925, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.  While he states his support of what the bill has achieved, he believes that the bill for re-authorization covers too many new people/groups and add too many new regulations.  Below are excerpts from the Senator’s statement from the February 2, 2012 Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting on S. 1925 unless otherwise cited.

Senator Grassley begins his list of complaints with the bill’s extension of power to Native American Tribes to prosecute violent crimes against native women.

For instance, S.1925 states that it recognizes the “inherent power” of Indian tribes “which is hereby recognized and affirmed, to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over all persons.”  Now I believe in the importance of federal responsibility for law enforcement and social services for Indian tribes.  And I believe in tribal self-government.  But as we meet here today, there is no inherent power of tribes to do anything of the sort the bill says.  Self-government is not government over “all persons” – including non-Indians.

In other words Senator Grassley does not believe that tribes should be able to extend their jurisdiction to cover non-native peoples on native land.  While I think this is an interesting area for further discussion, I will turn to Senators Akaka and Franken, Democrats of Hawaii and Minnesota respectively, to comment on the special need for protections for native women.  Their comments come from a release from the Senate Committe on Indian Affairs with regards to S. 1763 which would have extended the same jurisdiction that Senator Grassley opposes.

“According to a study by the Department of Justice, two-in-five women in Native communities will suffer domestic violence, and one-in-three will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. To make matters worse, four out of five perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian, and cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments. This has contributed to a growing sense of lawlessness on Indian reservations and a perpetuation of victimization of Native women,” said Senator Akaka.

“American Indian women suffer disproportionately from domestic violence and sexual assault, and the Violence Against Women Act must be updated to more effectively address their unique needs,” said Senator Franken.

Obviously I agree with Senators Akaka and Franken.

On to the issue of ensuring that shelters accommodate all victims of sexual violence despite their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Again from Grassley’s statement at the Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting:

The Leahy substitute would prohibit discrimination by grantees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, I agree that shelters and other grant recipients should provide services equally to everyone. But advocates of this provision haven’t produced data that shelters have refused to provide services for these reasons. This is true even after we were told they would send a report on the subject. The provision is a solution in search of a problem. Instead, it is only a political statement that shouldn’t be made on a bill that is designed to address actual needs of victims.

So Senator Grassley believes that shelters should have a fair chance to discriminate before Congress ensures that they don’t discriminate?  If he believes, as he says he does, that services should be provided equally, he should be willing to back that up with more than simple hopes that shelters and other providers will continue to do so without discrimination.

The Senator goes on to quibble about who counts as an underseved population, and questions whether we can really cover all underserved populations:

    The substitute creates so many new programs for underserved populations that it risks losing the focus on helping victims, period.  For instance, the programs for youth now cover people who are up to age 24.  And there is a program for older victims, defined as over 50.  Most of the population is under 24 or over 50.  But by definition, only a minority of the population can be underserved.


My substitute amendment eliminates requirements that certain groups be the subjects of underserved population programs. Programs for youth end at age 20. Programs for the elderly begin at age 60. Others are eliminated altogether.

If there are young people between the ages of 20 and 24 and older people between the ages of 50 and 60 who are experiencing sexual violence, I for one would like to see the benefits of the Violence Against Women Act made available to them.  Period.

And the final area of the bill with which Senator Grassley finds fault is its treatment of undocumented immigrants:

I also have concerns about some of the immigration provisions included in the Chairman’s substitute. I appreciate that he deleted several troublesome provisions from his original bill. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

VAWA is meant to protect victims of violence. It shouldn’t be an avenue to expand immigration law or to give additional benefits to people here unlawfully.
I was disappointed that the Chairman’s bill – as introduced – included sweeping immigration provisions. The substitute that we’re contemplating today struck a provision that watered down the law enforcement certification for U visa applicants. As everyone knows, law enforcement must certify that a person is, or will be, helpful in a criminal investigation before a U visa is granted.


Despite these advances, the Chairman’s substitute retains a provision to increase the annual cap on U visas. I objected to this increase early on in negotiations. Originally, the Chairman wanted to increase the cap from 10,000 annual visas to 20,000. The mark we’re presented with today would only increase the cap by 5,000, but it does so by taking “unused” visas from previous years. In this instance, the Chairman wants to go back to 2006 and claim that since we didn’t use all the visas allowed at that time, we should use them now. We could be talking about 34,000 or more “unused” visas.

So the Senator is more concerned about the number of undocumented women who will be able to claim special immigration status than ensuring that ALL women who are subjected to sexual violence have a legal recourse to find protection?  Call me a liberal, but I sure as hell would rather err on the side of ensuring that all women are protected, particularly those whose immigration status pushes them to the margins of our society.

To sum it up, if Senator Grassley actually means what he says about wanting to support women, he damn well better support S. 1925.


3 Comments on “Chuck Grassley’s opposition to the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization”

  1. jhonholding says:

    I agree, great work!

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