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Why Veterans Are Organizing for the VISION Act (AB 937)

June 14, 2022 Perspective


Niketa Kumar

Niketa Kumar

Communications Director

Niketa Kumar

Communications Director

Niketa Kumar is the communications director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. Previously, she served as director of communications at the Water Foundation, a California-based public foundation focused on water advocacy and policy. Niketa created and led the organization’s first external and internal communications program, and served as a strategic communications partner and advisor to partners across a variety of campaigns for clean, reliable water for people and nature.

Before joining the Water Foundation, Niketa served as a vice president at BerlinRosen Public Affairs where she led comprehensive communications programs for national and local campaigns to reduce income inequality and improve the economic security of families across the country. Niketa also served as deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama Administration, focusing on the agency’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and the administration’s initiatives to address climate change. She received a BA in International Affairs from George Washington University.

Ahead of Memorial Day, over 50 people gathered for a community forum organized by Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Unified U.S. Deported Veterans, and Students2Veterans to urge the California Senate and Governor Newsom to sign the VISION Act, end injustices to non-citizen veterans, and keep military families together.

Robert Vivar, executive director of Unified U.S. Deported Veterans, opened the discussion and shared:

As we begin this Memorial Day weekend, let’s remember and honor those that were willing to give their life to defend the constitution of the U.S., and let us not forget to remember our deported veterans fallen in exile. Many, if they had not been transferred to ICE after serving their time in detention, would have had the opportunity to receive the right they earned to proper medical attention from VA and perhaps even been joining us here today…Many of our elected officials, being veterans themselves, need to reminded of the phrase ‘leave no one behind.’

With over 25 co-authors in the California legislature and support from more than 180 civil rights, faith, labor, and community organizations, the VISION Act upholds Californians’ values of racial justice and equality by ensuring that all residents, including refugees and immigrants, are not torn from their communities and families when they are eligible for release from state or local prison.

In the community forum, many veterans, including those who have been deported by ICE, shared why the VISION Act is important to their families.

  • Some spoke about how the legislation disrupts the school-military-prison-deportation pipeline that weighs heavily on California’s Black, Latinx, and Asian and Pacific Islander American communities.
  • Others shared how the California prison system’s decision to double punish immigrant and refugee veterans with ICE detention and deportation denies veterans their rights to mental health resources and benefits that they earned because of their service. If veterans are deported, they are blocked from getting help from VA hospitals, including for disabilities or PTSD from their time in the military.
  • For many, the VISION Act restores a basic level of fairness in our state, affirming that everyone has the right to due process and that veteran citizens and veteran immigrants should be treated the same.

Over the past several weeks, Tanish Sathish of the Students2Veterans Initiative has been interviewing veterans like Marcelino Ramos and Jeff Brown about ICE detention and deportation and together they created a powerful video.

Marcelino Ramos:
“I was about to get out, walk out of prison. They call it the Golden Gates, but of course, I was recalled back because ICE had my name simply because I was born in Mexico…I’m alive because I want to see my kids.”

Jeff Brown:
“It doesn’t fit under the promise of the constitution. It doesn’t fit under the expectation of America. It doesn’t fit under the moral standards of American people.”

Alex Murillo, a co-founder of Unified U.S. Deported Veterans, also shared his story:

I never thought that I would be deported as a soldier, as a veteran. I was just living my life after serving my country. This broken immigration system hit me right in the face.

Deportation was very tough. The VISION Act would have protected me, would have kept me home. The judge gave me six months in a halfway house and a drug program that would have cut my time in half, but immigration, ICE got a hold of my name, and they put a stop to that.

It was a culture shock to be sent to Mexico, a country I did not know. My family suffered through over a decade of my deportation. My sons were homeless until recently because of my deportation. A lot of pain and suffering.

I am a founding member of Unified U.S. Deported Veterans. The VISION Act would have helped a lot of our veterans, probably over 90% of our veterans would have been helped and our military families could have been kept together. We come from a country that says support the troops, so why would we ever deport the troops?

Martha Garcia spoke about what happened when ICE deported her son and the impact on their family:

After my son [Jose] served in the Marines for many years, he got in trouble for his PTSD and trauma. After he served time in jail, we never expected my son to get deported. Now he has been deported to El Salvador for 3 years already.

After he got out of jail, I expected him to call me to pick him up. Instead, he called to tell me that immigration took him. He spent a lot of time without medication. My son is a U.S. citizen – we didn’t expect him to be deported. We don’t have any family or relatives in El Salvador. And it was so hard for me. A lot of families suffer in these situations.

The law is stuck. The law has to be changed. It’s an unjust law for people like me. My son is very sick from his injury serving in the Marines. He tells me he just wants to go home. It breaks my heart because we are just waiting for justice. It’s not just me – it is a lot of people in this situation…we came to this country for a different life, and we work hard. I will never be okay until my son comes back here.

Throughout the forum, community members talked about their plans to reach out to their Senators, including veteran Senators Eggman, Umberg, and Roth, to urge them to support the VISION Act.

Watch the forum and learn how you can take action today to support veterans and keep immigrant and refugee families and communities together and safe.