The VISION Act – California Assembly Bill 937 – was written by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, in an effort to end a law that treats non-citizens differently than U.S. citizens. Currently in California, when U.S. citizens are deemed eligible for release from prison or jail, they are free to return to their families and begin new chapters in their lives.
But when immigrants and refugees complete their sentences, they are often subjected to a second, unjust double punishment which as the AB 937’s summary says, “disregards their record of rehabilitation, stable reentry plans and community support purely because they are refugees or immigrants.” They are transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration detention and deportation purposes. That immigration detention is often for prolonged periods of time with no right to bail, and deportation means banishment from this country in which they have lived, the families of which they are a part and the jobs and careers they have pursued.
What in particular does the VISION Act do?
- Prevents immigrants from being subjected to perpetual punishment and unequal treatment by prohibiting local and state agencies from conducting immigration arrests and from assisting or facilitating immigration arrests, which includes prohibiting ICE transfers.
- Ensures immigrants are treated equally by prohibiting state agencies, local agencies, and courts from using immigration status as a factor to deny or to recommend denial in a diversion program, rehabilitation program, placement in a credit earning programs or classes, or mental health program.
The VISION Act is not only about justice for immigrants – it is also about racial justice. In recent years, a number of pieces of legislation in California have attempted to reform our state’s criminal justice system. That legislation has addressed the issue of mass incarceration. It has recognized that our prisons and jails unjustly and disproportionately harm Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The VISION Act is needed to continue that reform process.
In conjunction with Gabby Solano, Assembly member Carrillo, who herself came to this country as a refugee child fleeing violence in El Salvador, has written. “If the VISION Act becomes law, it will strike a blow against the racial inequality that is deeply embedded in all our systems of incarceration, as Black and Brown immigrants are more likely to be arrested, targeted, jailed – and deported.”
According to a poll by UC San Diego’s US Immigration Policy Center , two thirds of California voters support the VISION Act. In addition, that poll shows 8 in 10 California voters agree or strongly agree that regardless of what country a person was born in, they should be released from prison or jail after completing their sentences.
So why is the bill still stuck in the state Senate? In September, 2021, after passing in the Assembly, the bill was also close to passing in the Senate. But its advocates said several police groups lobbied against it, and some state senators balked as a result. It still remains on the state’s Senate floor, and lawmakers must act before the end of the legislative session this month to pass it. Advocates have only a few more days to engender support from members of the Senate.
California’s double punishment is immoral and unjust. As a person of faith, I believe in rehabilitation, second chances and equality for refugees and immigrants. My Christian tradition calls for welcoming immigrants and refugees and reaching out to them with compassion. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and other religious traditions share that commitment to justice for immigrants and refugees. The VISION Act is a vital part of compassionate immigration reform in California and I urge people to contact their state Senators immediately and urge that they support the passage of AB 937.
Rev. Jerald Stinson has served for 50 years as a progressive minister in the United Church of Christ. He is the Senior Minister Emeritus at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach and a member of the Long Beach Immigration Forum. He is committed to a theological search for truth and meaning that is grounded in rigorous scholarship and he is a life-long activist for social justice.