Why Nadler Says He Opposes the Violence Against Women by Illegal Aliens Act

Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, for the House Judiciary Committee Markup of H.R. 7909, the “Violence Against Women by Illegal Aliens Act” on May 22.

| 24 May 2024 | 03:59

    Despite its title, this bill will impact not only those who are undocumented, but also lawful permanent residents, or green card holders.

    This bill will do nothing to secure our border or fix our broken immigration system. It does not close any gaps or fix any loopholes in the law. It is purely a messaging bill and an attempt to score cheap political points.

    H.R. 7909 purports to add new grounds of inadmissibility and deportability for “sexual offenses,” adds a new ground of inadmissibility for domestic violence and other related offenses, and expands the current ground for deportability for domestic violence.

    If that were where the bill stopped, it would be almost entirely redundant to current law. Let me repeat: because all of the conduct described here already constitutes a deportable offense, this bill would ensure that no additional dangerous individuals would face immigration consequences. Zero.

    But as has been the case in every one of the dozen or so immigration messaging bills we have considered so far, this sloppy, poorly conceived, poorly drafted legislation has far-reaching and unintended consequences. At least, I hope they were unintended.

    Because this bill includes overly broad definitions and lacks any waiver authority, it threatens to sweep in far more people than it should, including the survivors of domestic violence.

    Let’s break down the problem. Sexual offenses and domestic violence are serious offenses, and if these bills fixed some gap in current law, I would have no problem supporting this legislation, but that is not the case here.

    First, the sexual offenses in the inadmissibility and deportability sections of the bill are largely redundant. All serious sexual offenses are already covered under current law. Currently, an individual is rendered deportable if they are convicted of an aggravated felony, which includes rape, sexual abuse of a minor, or a crime of violence, which is defined as any “offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person.”

    In comparison, this bill would render deportable those convicted of “sexual offenses” which is defined as “a criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another.” These categories almost entirely overlap.

    Additionally, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a noncitizen who is convicted of a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude, or a “CIMT,” is already subject to removal. Crimes in which there is intent to cause bodily harm have long been considered CIMTs.

    As such, people who are convicted of any crime where there is intent to cause bodily harm like sexual assaults, are deportable. The inadmissibility grounds for CIMT are even broader, as one can be deemed inadmissible by either being convicted of, or admitting to, acts that constitute a CIMT.

    Again, if that were all this bill did, it would simply be a waste of our time. But even more significant concerns with this bill arise with the sections related to domestic violence.

    Under current law, people are deportable if they are convicted of domestic violence and other related crimes and can be deemed inadmissible if they commit the acts or are convicted of a CIMT where the domestic violence or related offense has intent to cause bodily harm. So, the crime of domestic violence is well covered by current law.

    However, this bill attempts to significantly expand the definition of domestic violence to include the Violence Against Women Act definition that is used for grants and funding.

    The current definition for domestic violence offenses under Title 18, which is what is currently used for deportability purposes, focuses on physical force.

    In contrast, the broader VAWA-based definition used in this bill would lead to more people being ineligible for status or subject to deportation, and would sweep in a broader range of behaviors, including criminal charges where there might be any coercive actions, including economic coercion and coercive control. This will likely implicate survivors of domestic violence who have used violence in self-defense, or who were accused by their abusers and were either unable to defend themselves or pled guilty to avoid having to go through the court process.

    The VAWA definition was never intended to be used as a criminal statute or to capture only criminal behavior. We know this because the statute specifically says it includes “a pattern of any other coercive behavior committed, enabled, or solicited to gain or maintain power and control over a victim, including verbal, psychological, economic, or technological abuse that may or may not constitute criminal behavior.”

    And you do not have to take my word for it. Nearly 180 National and Local groups as part of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence echo these same concerns in their letter opposing this legislation. I ask unanimous consent to submit their letter for the record.

    By layering immigration consequences onto the existing challenges of talking about domestic abuse, this legislation will almost certainly create a chilling effect in immigrant communities with regard to the reporting of crimes of domestic violence.

    Further, this bill attempts to create a new ground of inadmissibility for domestic violence which does not require a conviction and does not have any of the exceptions that currently exist in the deportability grounds.

    Under current law, when an individual is convicted of domestic violence or stalking, and therefore becomes deportable, there are exceptions if the government finds that the individual is not the primary perpetrator, was acting in self-defense, or the crime did not result in serious bodily injury.

    While domestic violence advocates have concerns about the effectiveness of these waivers, such waivers are not even an option in the new inadmissibility grounds under this bill, which means it would certainly lead to survivors being deemed inadmissible, given the expansive definition and no conviction requirement.

    That is why so many domestic violence organizations oppose this legislation. We anticipate even more will voice their opposition if this bill ever makes it to the House floor.

    This bill is dangerous. I wish my Republican colleagues would work with us to fix our immigration system instead of moving these pointless messaging bills and attempting to score cheap political points. I urge my colleagues to oppose this legislation and I yield back.”

    Jerrold Nadler represents New York’s 12th Congressional District, which includes parts of Manhattan, and serves as the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.