Friday, May 27, 2016

House Judiciary Committee Republicans Strike Down Amendment To Protect Survivors Of Domestic & Sexual Violence From Online Abuse

Washington, D.C. - Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Republicans voted against Congresswoman Judy Chu’s (D-CA) amendment to H.R. 5203, the so called Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016. Representative Chu’s amendment would have required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish safeguards to protect survivors of domestic abuse in the social media screening process. These safeguards are necessary to prevent abusers from manipulating their victims’ social media accounts or using social media to cause further harm that could deny victims the opportunity to obtain humanitarian immigration relief. The amendment failed on a party line vote of 14 to 8.

“The Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 leaves domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking survivors at risk for having their visas denied and being made more vulnerable to their abusers,” saidCongressman Conyers. “Rep. Chu’s amendment to the bill would have ensured they receive the protections they deserve against harassment during the immigration review process. I’m appalled that my Republican colleagues blatantly overlooked the needs of this vulnerable population.”

“This outrageous bill is just the latest example of how House Republicans are trying to turn hate speech into policy,” said Congresswoman Chu. “This legislation would effectively halt all legal immigration and specifically target applicants from Middle Eastern countries. Imagine fleeing violence for safety in the U.S. only to be turned away because you can’t afford a DNA test.  Not only does this bill fail to strengthen national security, it further victimizes survivors of domestic abuse. Under this bill, a visa can be denied solely on the basis of social media activity. However, it does nothing to deal with situations where an abuser may impersonate a victim with a new social media profile or hijack a victim’s existing social media profile to make salacious posts. That is why I introduced my amendment to require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish procedural safeguards to protect victims of domestic abuse prior to conducting social media screening in the immigration process. These safeguards are necessary to prevent abusers from manipulating their victim’s social media accounts or deny victims the opportunity to obtain the humanitarian immigration relief that they deserve. This threat is real and if not dealt with properly, deserving immigrants may be denied their visas, and worse, remain vulnerable to their abusers.”

Congresswoman Chu continued, “This was a reasonable measure that would protect those seeking safety in the United States, and I’m disappointed that my Republican colleagues are more interested in keeping any and all immigrants out of our country and not in creating an immigration system that works for us.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than one in four stalking victims reported suffering some form of cyberstalking.  The majority of these victims identified the online stalker as a former intimate partner. As it stands, the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 does not prevent abusers from impersonating a victim with a new social media profile or hijacking a victim’s existing social media profile. This behavior can negatively impact an individual’s chances during the immigration review process.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 on a party line vote of 14 to 10. This Republican legislation would create multiple new onerous requirements that could ultimately impair an already broken U.S. immigration system. 

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 5203, the ‘‘Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Strengthening the security of the immigration and visa issuance process is a critical issue for all Americans. 
As one who believes our Nation should be a beacon of freedom and liberty, I very much appreciate the need to effectively combat terrorism, while maintaining our commitment to core values.
Unfortunately, H.R. 5203, the “Visa Integrity and Security Act,” fails to honor those core values.
This failing can largely be attributed to the fact that the bill reflects absolutely no input from Democratic Members of the Committee. Nor has this measure been the subject of any legislative hearing. 
Bereft of informed testimony and expert analysis, we have essentially no information about the bill's potential costs, both fiscal and social.  Yet, even a superficial review of H.R 5203 reveals its many flaws. 
To begin with, the bill – without any exception for age or any other factor -- singles out every national of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen by requiring that the Department of State complete individualized security opinions for visa applicants from these countries. 
As a result, vast amounts of agency time and resources would be dedicated to completing security advisory reports on, for example, infants, toddlers, and others who clearly pose no security risk.
An even more troublesome aspect of this provision is that it singles out a handful of majority Muslim countries thereby dehumanizing entire populations by treating all of their nationals as potential terrorists. 
Clearly, the more we dehumanize entire populations based on religion, the less likely they will become our allies against the real threat, namely, terrorists who seek to do our Nation harm.
History has shown that arbitrary across the board judgments based on broad characteristics, such as nationality, do nothing to enhance our security and only cast a cloud of suspicion over entire communities here in our country. 
Another critical flaw of this bill is the serious privacy concerns it presents.  Although H.R. 5203 mandates DNA testing for biological family-based immigrant applications, the bill has no provisions safeguarding this massive new database of DNA, that would include the DNA of potentially millions of non-criminals and American citizens.
Finally, this bill would require significant costs to implement, yet offers no comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system.
Just one provision of this bill -- the Visa Security Program -- would come at the cost of $120 million without meaningfully targeting law enforcement and intelligence resources on actual threats.
An immigration reform bill – such as the measure that passed the Senate in 2013 or the bill that had 201 House cosponsors in the last Congress – would allow law-abiding immigrants to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. 
Measures such as those it would make us safer by enabling law enforcement and intelligence agencies to focus resources on the most pressing cases.
Rather than rushing to consider legislation absolutely devoid of deliberative process, we should devote our efforts to developing meaningful and informed solutions.
Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to oppose H.R. 5203, and I yield back the balance of my time.





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