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August 31, 2015

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Politics:

Violence Against Women Act in limbo as parties weigh consequences of provision affecting important constituency: Hispanics

Senate Democrats are taking their Memorial Day break this week with a piece of aggravatingly unresolved business: how to respond to House Republicans’ objections to their Violence Against Women act, which passed with a healthy bipartisan majority weeks ago.

The objections are procedural. But the source of frustration is political.

And it stands the chance of pitting two of the most important swing blocs in the Democrats’ base — women and Hispanics — against each other.

House Republicans based their sharp objections on a single provision in the legislation that would fund counseling, shelter and court programs to counteract violence against women. They don’t like the set-aside of up to 10,000 visas for undocumented immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence.

The Constitution is on the Republicans’ side in this one. All bills that propose new sources of revenue — such as the fee attached to the visa program — have to start in the House. And while the House oftentimes does the Senate a solid and gives them a piece of dummy legislation to keep things moving, this time, they’re digging in.

The easiest way forward would be to simply excise the domestic violence visa from the bill, Democrats acknowledged. The Senate Republicans who supported the bill despite their unease with the visa provision wouldn’t object.

Click to enlarge photo

Harry Reid, U.S. Senator (D-NV).

“Of course the way to do it would be to eliminate the provision dealing with immigration there,” Sen. Harry Reid told reporters last week. “I think the majority of my caucus doesn’t want to do that.”

Is the Violence Against Women Act an immigration bill? No, not in the slightest, absent this provision.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Democrats are worried about any perceived slights to the Hispanic community. Although Hispanics rarely rank immigration as their top issue, Democrats have used it to curry loyal support from the constituency.

Most Democrats have backed efforts to extend residency permits, visas and pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Most Republicans have championed a more enforcement-centric platform — and Latinos have recalled those records come election-time.

Republicans wouldn’t mind changing that trend and have set their sights on wooing the Latino vote toward the right in 2012.

Would Democrats lose their Hispanic base if they end up cutting loose undocumented domestic violence victims to save the rest of the Violence Against Women act bill? Highly unlikely, especially considering the alternative. Republicans aren’t exactly offering undocumented domestic violence victims an olive branch to resolve the matter.

But in a season when political stakes are so high and races so close, nobody wants a bad headline — especially since in the next five months Democrats won’t get many opportunities to pass pro-immigrant legislation.

There is another option though: Do nothing.

Much as the Violence Against Women Act is due for a reauthorization — and it would make a nice feather in the caps of lawmakers trying to woo women voters — it’s been running past its expiration date since last year.

Humming along without an authorization can be troublesome when it comes to budgeting time. But Congress also won’t pass a budget before the election. That means the programs supported by the VAWA can coast along for a little while longer on the back of a continuing resolution.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it does make the worst-case scenario not quite so bad.

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