Monday, November 8, 2010

Slate's Bogus Trend Story About Fake Domestic Abuse

Slate's well-known for publishing articles that challenge conventional wisdom, sometimes embarrassingly so. I'm not sure if that spirit is behind today's piece that suggests immigrant women are faking spousal abuse in order to qualify for residency in the United States. The problem is that the story is rife with ambiguities that -- if it were published by any other outlet -- would earn it a place on Jack Shafer's "bogus trend" stories list.

How widespread is the fake-abuse problem?

"But the law has a potential flaw, too: A small fraction of the time, it may also provide incentive for immigrant husbands and wives to fake domestic abuse."

No one knows how widespread the fraud might be, though it's probably a small portion of all the spouses who apply for immigration relief saying they've been abused. In 2009, 8,534 people tried to gain permanent residency through VAWA's abuse provision, and 73 percent succeeded. Government databases don't track how many of the 2,000 or so denials were turned down on suspicions of fraud, as opposed to another reason such as lack of evidence.

Nobody would defend false charges of domestic abuse. The problem here is that Frances McInnis uses a single source to provide the anecdotal foundation for her story, but fails to offer any evidence that the fraud is actually a problem and even admits that the government's current practices may be filtering out such fraud -- but then goes on to call for more measures against the fraud.

Still, some immigration and women's rights activists agree that measures should be in place to guard against immigrants looking to exploit the law's permissiveness. "Credibility must be established," says Leni Marin, a senior vice president at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a nonprofit focused on ending domestic and sexual violence. "By no means do we endorse fraud," she said, adding that both the lawyer representing the case and immigration authorities should make sure that any claims of abuse are legitimate.

So we have a problem that's maybe not a real problem, requiring actions that might already be taken. This is weak, weak stuff. And to what end?

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