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“Russian Women are no longer the best kept secret of the cold war” notes the website of Encounters International, the mail-order bride company that is lobbying hard for the passage of the scary Republican version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — the version that passed the House of Representatives earlier this week. An actual reauthorization of VAWA passed in the Senate last month by a 68 – 31 margin, in a rare show of bipartisanship.
As I previously reported, the VAWA reauthorization provides Republicans with a unique opportunity to advance a war on two fronts (fighting women and immigrants), and they’re taking it. One would think that some problems—like domestic violence—are just too universal a struggle to fall prey to politics. Sadly, the Republicans’ handling of the Violence Against Women Act proves that’s not the case.
Incredibly, rather than protecting all people from abuse, they are doing the bidding of Encounters International and other “men’s groups” who are lobbying hard for the Republican VAWA bill. Why do these groups care? They’re lobbying for provisions that empower abusers and make it harder for victims of domestic violence to leave an abusive situation. See, immigration status and the fear of deportation give abusers just another tool to wield against their victims, and that much more leverage to make them stay.
As Mony Ruiz-Velasco, National Immigrant Justice Center’s director of legal services, told the Daily Beast:
“I’ve never had a case where the abuser did not use … immigration status as a tool.”
They tell women that going to the police means deportation and separation from their children. And rather than recognizing their role in this problem and working to correct it, the mail order bride industry is actually lobbying Congress to give abusers more power and more control.
As Rachel Maddow explained in her expose Wednesday night:
One of the worrying aspects of the whole mail order bride phenomenon – not just now, but always – is that a woman who immigrates to the United States using a service like this can end up dependent for her immigration status in this country on the American man to whom she has just been married for a fee. And if that American man starts beating her up, an immigrant woman who came to America under these circumstances can kind of be trapped. I mean, you don’t want her to stay with the abusive guy who bought her hand in marriage on the internet. But if she leaves the abusive American husband, she also may lose the marriage tie that was making it legal for her to be here, and she would therefore get deported.
So that’s the choice – right, stay with the man who was beating you…or get deported.
House Republicans claim that they are trying to protect women, but their group is opposed by all the major national, state, and local domestic violence groups. The only groups that are gung-ho about the Republican version of VAWA are really, really sketchy.
The advocacy group, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, or SAVE, has been lobbying the House of Representatives to include a “reform to curb VAWA immigration fraud” in its version of the bill. The GOP version of the bill does that by removing confidentiality protections for immigrant victims of abuse and forcing them to tell their alleged abusive husbands that they’re applying for protected immigrant status. It also removes an avenue through whih immigrant victims can achieve permanent citizenship.
An official of SAVE has a major financial interest in reducing immigrant protections: Its treasurer, Natasha Spivack, started international “marriage service” Encounters International in 1993 with the aim of arranging marriages between U.S. men and Russian women. “The Woman Of Your Dreams Just May Have A Russian Accent,” states the company’s website.
One of the Russian brides matched by Encounters International sued the firm, claiming that she was beaten by her American husband, that the company failed to properly screen candidates and neglected to tell her about a law allowing immigrants to escape abusive marriages without fear of automatic deportation. A jury decided in favor of the Russian bride and awarded her $434,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The case was affirmed upon appeal.
And so on. Back in February, when the Senate was first taking up VAWA, a letter was sent from a group called the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.
“We, the undersigned, representing millions of Americans nationwide, are writing today to oppose the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This nice-sounding bill is deceitful because it destroys the family by obscuring real violence in order to promote the feminist agenda,” the letter read.
Please note that “We, the undersigned” from the Concerned WOMEN for America Legislative Action Committee comprises mostly men. Of the twenty-five people who signed the letter, sixteen are male.
In an exchange between Representative Sandy Adams (R), who introduced the bill in the House, and Representative John Conyers on the House floor Wednesday, Conyers asks “Who supports the Republican version of the bill?”
Representative Sandy Adams can only respond with “Well, Mr. Conyers, I can say I do. And I know that we have a list of them…”
Responds Conyers, adequately:
I ask who’s supporting the Republican measure, and you say ‘I am.’ Well, I’m glad to know that. And I think that just about tells everybody where the logic and the support for this bill is – there is none.
Unless, of course, your dating profile is: Republican, male, single, seeking Russian bride