Monday, March 19, 2012

Some second thoughts regarding the Violence Against Women Act

 by Thaddeus Blanchette 

(Tip ó the hat to Dr. Gregory Mitchell for the graphic, although the opinions expressed here are strictly my own)

Recently, my social media pages have been filling up with friends and relatives urging me to support the Violence Against Women Act currently in front of Congress. VAWA is generally something I would support reflexively. However, having learned that the U.S. has an unsavory tendency to hide very retrograde policy wolves in apparently progressive sheeps' clothing, I decided to actually look at how VAWA would affect the lives of the women I am currently most concerned with: Brazilian immigrants to the U.S.

After going through VAWA, I've come to the conclusion that while it may be a sincere attempt to deal with many issues raised by domestic violence, it stinks when it comes to immigration. Right now, VAWA's International Marriage Broker (IMB) riders set unreasonable restrictions on foreign women's freedoms in the name of "protecting" these "potential victims". Many of my friends tout the fact that the new version of VAWA will cover LGBT folks as a great reason for supporting it. Unfortunately, I don't see how extending these "protections" to the LGBT crowd make the Act any better.

Look at this...

"[VAWA] limits sharing information about the foreign fiancée or spouse until IMBs search the National Sex Offender Public Registry or State sex offender public registry and search for criminal history of the U.S. client and receive a signed, written consent from the foreign fiancée or spouse to release her information to the U.S. client."


"[VAWA] mandates U.S. citizens filing for K visas to disclose criminal convictions, including domestic violence, multiple convictions for substance or alcohol abuse and other violent crimes; the information
will be disclosed to the foreign fiancée or spouse."

Sounds like reasonable stuff, right? Until you start asking how all this is going to be operationalized in a country like Brazil.

What's first of all apparent to someone who's studied international marriage and dating (like myself) is how radically out of touch this law is with the ways IMBs and dating sites work. If it worked as intended, it would effectively shut down a huge amount of international contact between American men and foreign women, unless the latter were effectively middle class (and probably white).

However, VAWA's IMB rider just silly. Any idiot with a website and a proxy can effectively organize an international "boy meets girl" site and there isn't a damned thing the government can do about it. So REAL trafficking - the sort which recruits people for sexual slavery or very dodgy servile marriages - isn't going to be impacted one single bit by VAWA's IMB rider.

Who's going to be hit? John Doe and Maria da Silva, who're going to have to jump through yet another series of federally mandated legal hoops (which may or may not be practicable at a local level in a place like Brazil) if they fall in love and want to get married.

Here's something which most of you folks haven't done but I have: married a foreigner. You should think about VAWA in this context. What does it actually take to marry a foreigner and bring them to the U.S. and how will VAWA likely impact that?

In Brazil, ALL paperwork regarding marriage and fianceé visas needs to pass through the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janeiro, which is great if you met someone on the RdJ/SP axis. But go take a look at Brazil on a globe. Notice how it's larger than the continental U.S.? You are shit out of luck, my friend, if you happen to fall in love with someone in, say, Goias. Every bureaucratic step in your visa processing is going to require a 600 USD round trip air ticket between Goias and Rio and VAWA just added at least two further steps to the visa process.

Furthermore, all this VAWA reporting stuff is going to have to be produced in Portuguese for your prospective spouse and I highly doubt the U.S. Consulate will be footing the translation bill. Seeing as how it will need to have to be an "official" translation, produced by a certified court translator, in order to have any legal relevance at all, that's probably going to add a couple of thousand bucks to the visa process as well.

Either that, or we're just pissing in the wind here, presuming that a vice-consul, who deals with 50 visa applications a day, is going to competently and carefully translate some guy's VAWA report from English to Portuguese on the fly. And remember: you get a black mark on your VAWA report if you've ever even been busted for smoking a joint or violating an open beverage law, though it's absolutely unclear what link any of these two "crimes" has to violence against women.

And is all this visa rigamarole going to materially aid a significant number of foreign women in the struggle against abusive husbands? Probably not. It puts a heavy burden on the new couple, one which would be absolutely unbearable if it were directed against AMERICAN women.
One only needs to think of the stink something like this would cause were the government to suggest that American women's private coorespondence with men via singles sites be vetted by the FBI before being allowed to go through.

Government tutelage of women, anyone?

I mean think about it: how would you feel if you had to fly from wherever you live to Philadelphia three, four, or five times, translate loads of makework documents at your cost and have your prospective mate be vetted as if he were a threat to national security in order to be allowed to marry?

Would you perhaps think that it might be an unreasonable burden on your freedom as a woman? No? You think, then, that abortion laws are a radical restriction on your sexual and reproductive freedom, but making you and your partner jump through hoops left and right in order to get married - or even to FLIRT, for chrissakes - is just good sense...?

Given that you don't think that the government should be involved as a duenna in your love life, then what exactly is the ethical and moral argument for subjecting foreign women to sort of dog and pony show VAWA's IMB rider postulates...?

As VAWA currently stands, I don't think I can support it. Yes, it does some good things and maybe those outweight the bad. It's hard for me to say. All I know is that for the one bit of the sex/gender/immigration/violence question that I can reasonably claim some degree of expertise on, VAWA is not likely to do much good and may do quite a lot of bad.

I thus suggest that those of you who are concerned with women's issues, gender and violence, take a good hard look at what VAWA actually does in your areas of expertise before you support this bill. It does not deserve to be supported, reflexively, simply because it has a nice, appealing title.