Borough lawmakers pen bill to protect female immigrants

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (l.-r.); Ann Jawin, of the Center for the Women of New York; and state Assemblywoman Grace Meng discuss the lawmakers' proposed bill to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence. Photo by Joe Anuta
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There are currently two competing versions of a women’s rights bill extension on the federal level, but Queens lawmakers are not waiting for a resolution and have introduced state legislation to protect the anonymity of victims’ immigration status when they report domestic violence.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) announced The New York State Violence Against Women Act at Queens Borough Hall last Thursday.

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have legislative proposals that would extend the federal Violence Against Women Act, first passed in 1994 and renewed twice with bipartisan support. The federal law protects women against violence, sexual or otherwise, and increases penalties for certain types of rapes.

But Congress and the U.S. Senate differ on what should be included in the latest iteration.

A House subcommittee passed a version that took out provisions protecting illegal immigrants, which is what prompted the outcry from the Queens lawmakers.

“For Congress to even consider tweaking this law is really ridiculous and offensive to women,” said Meng, who is running for Congress, but insists the bill has nothing to do with her bid.

To compensate should the bill pass the full House and Senate, Meng and Stavisky’s legislation would ensure an extra protection on the state level.

Their bill would ensure law enforcement officials handling cases of domestic violence could not ask about the immigration status of the victim nor report that status if he or she became aware of it.

The legislation would also allow a judge to consider if an abuser attempted to silence a victim by threatening to reveal that victim’s immigration status.

But the proposed state bill could not remedy two aspects of the federal version.

First, the federal bill up for renewal provided temporary visas to illegal immigrants who were being abused by the same people sponsoring their quest for citizenship. The bill also opened up a different path to citizenship for some victims.

But the act has been tweaked as well by Democrats.

The U.S. Senate’s version has also come under fire for what some have called political additions designed to create controversy in an election year.

Along with protecting the immigration status of victims of domestic violence, the U.S. Senate version would hand out more temporary visas. In previous years, 10,000 visas were given out. This year, the U.S. Senate bill would add 5,000 more.

The bill would also extend protection to victims of domestic violence on Indian reservations and to same-sex couples, which rankled Republicans, who said the obvious partisan issues will allow Democrats to conveniently declare a “war on women” in an election cycle.

But Stavisky disputed that claim in a statement.

“There are some on the other side of the aisle who say that Democrats have manufactured a phoney ‘war on women.’ There’s nothing phony about federal legislatures trying to remove critically important rights and protections,” she said. “We should be making it easier for women who need police help to seek it.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 6:54 pm, May 16, 2012
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