VICTORY! The VOICES Act is now law!

Wed Nov 28 2018

General Assembly overrides Governor’s veto to pass VOICES Act in a win for domestic violence and immigrant rights advocates 

SPRINGFIELD (November 28, 2018)--With a bipartisan supermajority vote of 73-34 the Illinois House of Representatives this afternoon joined the Senate in overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors (VOICES) Act (SB 34). The VOICES Act will increase protections for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking, and other offenses that have come to the forefront of Illinois politics through the #MeToo movement. Governor Rauner vetoed the measure to pivot towards the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric prior to this month’s elections, when voters rejected these positions and his bid for reelection. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and its members made over 100,000 contacts to voters regarding this issue leading up to Election Day. The motion to override the veto first passed in the Senate 40-12 on November 14, 2018. The bill gained support from more Republican legislators since being sent to the Governor’s desk in May.  

SB 34 was championed by Senate President John Cullerton, State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, State Rep. Margo McDermed, State Rep. Litesa Wallace, State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, State Rep. Juliana Stratton, and the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois, a diverse grassroots coalition co-convened by ICIRR that is dedicated to making all Illinoisans live in welcoming and secure conditions. The bill originally passed May 31, 2018 and was vetoed by Governor Rauner on August 28, 2018. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, three out of four physical assaults and four out of five rapes never get reported to police. This bill will encourage immigrant survivors to report these incidents. Under federal law, these survivors who cooperate with the detection, investigation, and/or prosecution of the crime are provided with a path toward economic stability at a time when they are attempting to gain independence from their abusers. Federal law enables these survivors to apply for U or T visas, which enable them live and work in the US. To apply, survivors must get a law enforcement agency to certify that they are crime victims and that they are cooperating. The VOICES Act provides a 90 business day time frame (in most cases) for a qualifying agency to certify that the person is a victim.

“By overriding Gov. Rauner’s veto today, the General Assembly has sent a clear message that Illinois is a welcoming state for all--including and especially our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Lieutenant Governor-Elect and State Rep. Juliana Stratton. “I am proud of my colleagues and grateful to them for boldly standing up and doing the right thing.”

“I have constituents who are directly affected by this bill, including Genoveva Ramirez, a 67-year old undocumented grandmother who was attacked in a home invasion alongside her grandson, and was left in legal limbo after attempting to get her U visa,” said Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), the bill’s chief House sponsor. “Supporting this critical legislation is the right thing to do, and I am proud that we have overridden Gov. Rauner’s veto today.”

“Our problem is that not all law enforcement agencies understand federal law--some are are not filling out certification forms, or they are applying their own patchwork standards for what counts for certification,” said ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito. “We have negotiated with law enforcement officials throughout this process to make sure their concerns are met and this bill is not an unnecessary burden on anyone. We applaud the General Assembly for overriding the Governor’s unnecessary and misguided veto.”

A 2017 report released by ICIRR titled Unequal Protection: Disparate Protection of Immigrant Victims in Cook, the Collar Counties, and Beyond found disparate handling of certification cases when comparing Cook County and other areas. 

“The National Immigrant Justice Center has reported that there is a decrease in the number of immigrant survivors of domestic violence who are willing to pursue orders of protection and this is just one example of how this bill can help survivors,” said Vickie Smith, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which advocates for policies that keep domestic violence survivors safe and holds batterers accountable. “Coming forward about domestic violence or leaving any abusive situation is one of the hardest things anyone can do, and immigrant survivors face additional obstacles when attempting to speak out. We are grateful to the General Assembly for overriding the veto to make eliminating these obstacles for survivors possible.” 

“As an organization that serves immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault every day, we know that our survivors face enormous barriers to coming forward. The VOICES Act is a victory for our community,” said Neusa Gaytan, Senior Vice President of Programs a Mujeres Latinas en Accion. “U visas are crucial empowerment tools for our survivors--helping them feel safe to seek justice and helping them gain economic self-sufficiency necessary to live lives free of violence. The VOICES Act helps remove tools of control and coercion from perpetrators, and gives survivors a voice. This bill shows immigrant survivors that they have rights in Illinois, and that they can speak out without fear, knowing that they will be believed and supported.” 

“This law should make our communities safer by empowering victims, regardless of their immigration status, to work with police to bring the real criminals to justice,” said Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton, the law's lead sponsor. “Protecting victims of violent crimes should be something we can all agree on and support.”

“We are standardizing the path to certification, and illuminating the path to self-empowerment for women,” said Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Mokena). “When people in communities feel safe enough to come forward about violent crimes, our communities become safer.”  

“Everyone should feel safe enough to come forward about a crime committed against them,” said State Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford). “This legislation is a step towards mending the broken relationship between law enforcement and our  immigrant communities.” 

The VOICES Act takes effect June 2019. The Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois and our allies among advocates for domestic violence survivors will work with law enforcement to ensure its full implementation. 

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ICIRR is dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.
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