Evelyn Zheng

Equal Justice America Awards two-year $130,000 Immigration Fellowship to Evelyn Zheng at Greater Boston Legal Services

In News by david.landis

Evelyn Zheng, Harvard Law School J.D. 2018

““I am so grateful to Equal Justice America for giving me the opportunity to work towards protecting the rights of some of the most vulnerable communities. We can’t restrict human rights only to the success stories – every individual must be guaranteed the right to basic living essentials and security of person. I want to do away with the ‘good immigrant’ narrative in my work. Immigrants who come to the U.S., for whatever reason, with whatever background, are entitled to have their voices heard and to be treated with humanity and respect.”

As a child, I recalled my parents discussing their green card applications. I remember them telling me that there was something they were waiting for, but if they didn’t get it, then we would have to go to Taiwan – a land I had only visited once, and just for a few weeks to see my extended family.

I grew up in a sizable Chinese-American community, and many of my friends had similar experiences or were immigrants themselves. Everything worked out for us, but we were the success stories.

In law school, I enrolled in the Immigration and Refugee Clinic and was posted at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). Immigration had always been a shadowy presence in my life, and I wanted a chance to help others take back their narrative. In the clinic, I represented clients seeking asylum by conducting interviews with them, drafting affidavits, and filing these documents at immigration court. I had one client in particular who was seeking asylum after fleeing from violence and persecution on the basis of her gender and her outspoken beliefs in gender equality. Men and gang members had targeted her and her child, and because she refused to submit, she was forced to flee.

She had her case heard before an immigration judge and was ultimately granted asylum. While she testified on the stand, I was reminded of how much trauma she had to recall to satisfy the legal system. My supervisor had been careful to teach me an important lesson – that our clients are the ones who made it here. There are so many more who didn’t.

My client in this case was another success story. Like my friends were. Like my family was. All of us had “clean” and simple narratives – we never had any trouble with the law in our home countries or in the U.S. We were “hardworking” and had carved “successful” paths for ourselves. But there are so many more people caught in our immigration system with complicated and messy narratives that deserve rigorous representation and a zealous advocate as well. In these current times, it is ever easier to inadvertently pit the “good” immigrants against the “bad” in order to make immigration reform more appealing, but this will only do more harm. There is no justice for just a few; there is only justice when it is for all.

“East Bay Community Law Center’s Education, Defense & Justice for Youth Program addresses the overlapping legal and social service needs of young people ensnared at the intersection of the juvenile legal and education systems. By using a model of community-based, holistic representation that works simultaneously on prevention, intervention, and restoration, we aim to disrupt systems that operate to criminalize youth of color and push them out of their schools and communities. We’re very excited to launch the Brian Lewinstein Youth Justice Fellowship and welcome Yasmine Tager as our inaugural Fellow.”
–Rosa Bay, Director & Clinical Supervisor, Education Defense & Justice for Youth Program, East Bay Community Law Center

“In losing Brian, our community lost a dedicated and exceptional advocate for young people facing the gravest inequities in our society. We are deeply proud to honor his legacy and his indescribable spirit with this momentous Fellowship, through which we will continue to dismantle unjust systems and provide young people crucial legal and social support.”
–Frank Martin, Interim Executive Director, East Bay Community Law Center

Katherine Shank

“We’re so proud to honor Brian Lewinstein’s commitment to equity and justice through this important partnership with EJA and this Fellowship. Through holistic individual advocacy and policy reform, Yasmine and her team will work to challenge the disparate racial impacts inherent in our current juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.”
–Seema Patel, Clinical Program Director, East Bay Community Law Center

“As director of the Youth Defender Clinic, I am very much looking forward to working with Yasmine Tager, EBCLC’s first Brian Lewinstein Youth Justice Fellow. Yasmine’s addition will allow our clinic to develop a new focus in advocating for and representing transition-age youth. We are thrilled to welcome Yasmine and could not be more excited about the enthusiasm and passion she will bring to both the clients and the work.”
–Tony Cheng, Director & Clinical Supervisor, Youth Defender Clinic, East Bay Community Law Center

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