America’s Immigrant Veterans

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A two-day tribute to raise awareness of the nation’s immigrant veterans and their struggles to become U.S. citizens will be held at Arizona State University. Tomas E. Robles Jr., executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, (LUCHA) will talk about the conference.

José Cárdenas: This week ASU will host two events highlighting immigrant soldiers' service and quest for citizenship. With me to talk about this is Tomas E. Robles, Jr., executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, also known as LUCHA. Tomas welcome to "Horizonte." And LUCHA, of course, in Spanish means struggle or to fight. What is the issue that you are struggling for and fighting for?

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: LUCHA, Living United for Change in Arizona, has been working very closely with the immigrant community since 2010. And this particular topic has to do with our broken immigration system and how it affects everyone in the United States including veterans of the armed forces.

José Cárdenas: Now, one of the events that we are talking about will have already taken place by the time this show airs. But these are both taking place at ASU focused on veterans. Who else is involved there?

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: We are getting an incredible backing from Arizona State University. The Pat Tillman Veteran Center is a big supporter along with the School of Transporter Studies. In addition, we are working with another nonprofit organization entitled by Bibles, Badges and Business, who's a conservative group that's a pro-immigrant organization as well. We are looking to get various participants. (Inaudible) will be involved in the ceremony as well as the ROTC color guard.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about Wednesday's event. What's going to happen?

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: Well, what we want to do is highlight how veterans are affected by our broken immigration system. Myself, as a child of immigrants and a former vet myself, immigration plays a key role in every veteran's life who is affected by this. So the conference is going to go over several types of vets. One of the first group is veterans of mixed status families. These are vets that are either permanent residents or U.S. citizens. And they are part of families who may have a parent or a brother or sister that is undocumented. So one of the cases that we are working on is a soldier by the name of Jesus Magana.

José Cárdenas: And we have a picture of him. And he is the soldier, and his sister is the person who is not in this country legally and has had some difficulties with services. In fact, here's a picture of them on the screen right now.

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: Yes. While he was actually serving in Afghanistan, his sister was going through a deportation removal order. And since then, he has, they have worked to try to keep her in, and she has tried to get on as a dreamer, which is an undocumented youth brought to this country.

José Cárdenas: We have another picture of him, I assume in Afghanistan.

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: I believe so, yes. And, you know, these are just the living conditions while you are a soldier or marine or sailor or airman. And so, even to this day, his sister is in the deportation removal order. So she could be removed from the country even tomorrow if it happens.

José Cárdenas: Do you have any sense for the scope of the problem, how many mixed status families are we talking about?

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: I don't have a sense, but I can tell you that since 2011, there have been record numbers of immigrants joining the military. Along with the fact that over 8,000 join every year and that's been the case since 2001 after 9/11. So there are lots of vets that, they may or may not be part of a mixed status family. They may be a resident. And we also have another soldier by the name of Israel Montero who is a resident who served his time in Iraq and actually had difficulties was gaining citizenship. And a lot of it had to do with the pressure to reenlist and to stay in the military to be able to be afforded that privilege. So our vets that are in the military, they are affected by immigration come in different shapes and sizes even within the ranks.

José Cárdenas: Now, with respect to the mixed status families, you are talking about, veterans who are here legally, I think in Jesus's case he was born in the United States, so he is a citizen. Is the effort going to be to get special legislation for them and for their relatives?

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: Yeah. What we want to do is we want to present that the immigration, the immigration battle is with every citizen here in the United States. And we want to bring into the face of a lot of people see vets as mainstream veteran, who may not necessarily be of an immigrant family. But we want to have a call to action to make sure we look at pushing legislation through so no veteran loses his or her family while they are serving and no veteran is deported while, after they have served as well.

José Cárdenas: And the veterans in that category will be more the focus of the discussion that I understand is going to take place on May 2nd. Maggie Rivas, an author has written about these veterans, and we will put some information up on the screen where people can go to get more information about the event. How -- give us a little bit of a profile. I understand that there are quite a few veterans who are here legally, didn't obtain citizenship status and now they find themselves deported and suffering the consequences.

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: Yes. There's actually thousands. I think as of 2012 there have been 35,000 vets have been deported. Most of the vets had served their country most of the time during the Vietnam era. And due to poor decisions or just mishaps, they have committed a crime, and usually when you are a resident, if you have committed a felony, you are automatically going to be deported. The case that we are making is that these individuals, these veterans have served their country, they have adopted the United States and at the very least do not deserve to be punished twice. If they did the crime, they should serve out their sentence. But after they are done they should be allowed to stay like any U.S. citizen. In addition there are those immigrants, for example, there was a soldier that's, he is an immigrant from Jamaica. He was actually recently deported --

José Cárdenas: He will be featured as well. We are almost out of time, I am sorry. But the events are this Wednesday and then Friday, May 2nd.

Tomas E. Robles, Jr.: Yes. There's still time to make it to the May 2nd event, which will highlight contributions.

José Cárdenas: So, we have to end it there. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte."

Tomas E. Robles: Thank you for your time:

José Cárdenas: That is our show for tonight. From all of us here at eight and "Horizonte," I am José Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Tomas E. Robles Jr.:Executive Director, Living United for Change in Arizona;

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