Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That Was Us!
Reinterpreting Immigrant Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with Grace Huang

By Grace Huang

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
 
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In 2002 and 2003, in my capacity as a steering committee member of what was then known as the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women (NNEVAIW), I had the privilege of working in partnership with Laura Luis Hernandez, Legal Voice (or Northwest Women's Law Center, as it was then called), and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), in a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved the interpretation of the provisions of the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allow for someone to defend herself against deportation if she is married to a U.S Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, and that spouse has physically abused her or subjected her to extreme cruelty.

In Ms. Luis Hernandez' case, her permanent resident husband was violent and abusive, but all of the physical abuse took place in their home country, and she had fled to the United States. Under the law at the time, a VAWA applicant was required to prove he or she was physically abused or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. (the law has since changed), and her case had been denied by an immigration judge, who had found that none of the relevant abusive behavior had taken place in the U.S.

It was clear to Sara Ainsworth (staff attorney at Legal Voice) and the attorneys at NWIRP that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Immigration Judge had misapplied the law, based on their lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, which involves an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behavior, including the physical violence.

However, to even get to the merits of the Immigration Judge's decision, Ms. Luis Hernandez had to overcome a jurisdictional hurdle disallowing review of this misapplication of the law. Federal immigration law specifies that there is no judicial review of decisions that are left in the "discretion" of the Immigration Court. Through the amazing collaborative efforts of Legal Voice, its pro-bono counsel Kay Frank, Rima Alaily, and Angela Niemann, NWIRP, and NNEVAIW, we were able to persuade the Ninth Circuit in Hernandez v. Ashcroft. In the end, the Court agreed with us that the interpretation of what constitutes "extreme cruelty" is a legal determination and not a purely discretionary decision, that the Court had jurisdiction to review the erroneous decision of the Immigration Judge, and that Ms. Luis Hernandez had been stalked and subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S., and was therefore eligible for the protections under VAWA.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to see Ms. Luis Hernandez again in person, and am thrilled to say she is thriving and continues to be grateful for the efforts that Legal Voice and the legal community put in to assist not only her, but immigrant survivors of domestic violence throughout the country.


Grace Huang is the Public Policy Coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide organization of over 70 domestic violence shelter and advocacy programs. At WSCADV, Grace has had the opportunity to work alongside Legal Voice, in partnership with amazing survivors of domestic violence, to bring their experiences to the legislature, court system, and administrative agency policy making processes. In between meetings, Grace enjoys watching her child cheer on the Seattle Mariners, WSCADV's strong partner in the 'Refuse to Abuse' domestic violence prevention campaign.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seattle to Join National Movement Affirming a Woman's Right to Abortion Shouldn't Be Decided by How Much Money She Makes

By Jenny Dodson Mistry

Since 1976, federal dollars have been withheld from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. That precludes even a health exception for women who qualify for federal insurance plans, jeopardizing the well-being of women with serious medical complications during pregnancy.

These unfair limitations are imposed not only on families who use Medicaid, but also on women who qualify for other government-sponsored insurance programs, including military personnel, female veterans who receive coverage from the VA, federal employees, Native American women who utilize the Indian Health Service, women in federal prison and Peace Corps volunteers.

Discrimination in benefits for eligible women threatens what is, for many, an already precarious financial situation. The unexpected expense of an abortion can have devastating consequences, particularly on low-income families who already struggle to pay for basic necessities like food and rent.

Out of frustration with this insidious inequality in access to reproductive health care that effectively puts abortion out of reach for many women, a national movement to restore funding for abortion has evolved. Cities across the country are leading that charge, both through grassroots efforts and local government action. On the grassroots front, the All* Above All “Be Bold Road Trip” is traveling to cities across the nation, engaging scores of activists who are fed up with politicians withholding health care benefits from women for political reasons.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health has worked with cities and localities across the country— such as Travis County, Texas; New York City; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—to pass local resolutions advocating for coverage of all pregnancy-related care, including annual check-ups, prenatal care, maternity care, family planning and abortion. We are so excited that Seattle could be next on that list! Seattle City Council is currently considering a resolution urging President Obama and Congress to repeal all federal bans on public coverage of abortion. Championed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell and sponsored by Legal Voice and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, this resolution would encourage federal lawmakers to reinstate insurance coverage for abortion services for women enrolled in public insurance programs—including the more than 4,000 Seattle women of reproductive age insured through the federal government.

The State of Washington is already a leader on this issue, as one of just 17 states that uses its own funds to provide coverage for abortion. By calling on the federal government to follow its example, Seattle is seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the full impact that autonomy in medical decisions has not only on women’s health, but also on the economic stability of our most vulnerable communities.

By joining the growing chorus of communities calling for decisive action to eliminate health care inequality, Seattle is taking a bold stand to improve the lives of women across all 50 states.


Jenny Dodson Mistry is the Manager of Local Initiatives at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, where she gets the opportunity to support organizations doing proactive work on the city and county level all across the country. She is inspired by the resolute and creative activists that have made cities a beacon for the progressive movement, and in her spare time, likes to travel to as many of these cities as she can.

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Do you want to take a stand and affirm the idea that all women deserve access to insurance coverage of abortion? Here's how you can get involved:
- Talk about it: Tell your family, friends, and Congress why this issue matters to you. Join us in a Tweet Storm on Thursday, September 4, from 1-2 p.m. PDT. For sample social media posts, please email Sarah MacDonald, Legal Voice Marketing & Communications Manager.

- Write a Council Member: The best way to ensure decisions coming out of your local city council are aligned with your values is to tell your local council members what your values are! We encourage you to write to Seattle City Council Members and tell them why they should pass this resolution. Whether you share a personal story or use our sample letter (also available by emailing Sarah), your voice matters.

- Sign the petition: Join the national movement by signing All* Above All's petition asking members of Congress to support lifting all restrictions on coverage of abortion care.