By ANOOP PRASAD
Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus is excited to announce a new fellowship for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders.
Too often, the movements against prisons and deportation are out of sync and ignore the intersectional experiences of people in both systems. Advocates often make decisions without inviting formerly incarcerated people into the conversation and without consulting people who are locked up.
Yuri Kochiyama at anti-war demonstration in New York circa 1968.
Through the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship, we hope to begin changing that. By centering and building leadership among directly impacted people, we hope to support a movement led by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.
Over the next several months, the first two Yuri Kochiyama fellows will be using their experiences to advocate for changes to America’s incarceration and deportation systems. As people who have spent years in prison and immigration detention, their voices and leadership are sorely needed in the movement.
We chose to name the fellowship after Yuri Kochiyama. She was a tireless political activist who dedicated her life to social justice and human rights for almost five decades. Yuri spent two years as a young adult in an internment camp for Japanese Americans in Arkansas during World War II. Later in life, she worked with Malcolm X, the Harlem Parents Committee, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and other groups.
Throughout her life, she supported people in prison by exchanging letters, advocating for their release, and organizing support committees.
Our first two fellows will carry on Yuri’s legacy by using their experiences in prison and immigration detention to advocate for those still locked up. Their first advocacy project will be in support of a ballot measure that limits the ability of district attorneys to charge children as adults. The reforms will keep thousands of children from being sent to prison for decades and from facing deportation for those crimes.
Rajeshree Roy, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama fellow, was arrested at the age of 15 for a robbery. Rather than receiving services as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was homeless, she was tried as an adult and sent to prison for 15 years. She would later spend a year in immigration detention.
Aelam Khensamphanh, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama fellow, fled war in Laos and came to the United States as a refugee when he was 8 years old. His family was resettled in Modesto, a poor community plagued with violence. Unable to speak English and without language services, he struggled in school as a child. Attempting to fit in, he joined a gang at 15. After a shootout with a rival gang, he was sent to prison for life at the age of 17.
While in prison, Aelam worked with the Squires Program to intervene with at-risk youth. After serving 22 years in prison, he spent months in immigration detention before being released earlier this year.
Aelam and Rajeshree will be working to make sure that future generations of children will not go through the same cycle of trauma, incarceration, and deportation that they did.
Anoop Prasad is staff attorney for immigrant rights for the Asian Law Caucus, which is based in San Francisco. For more information on ALC’s programs and services, call (415) 896-1701 or visit www.advancingjustice-alc.org.