We received an awesome newsletter today. It was an interview. Read it below.
EMILY MBENDEKE is a transgender immigrant from Cameroon. She migrated to the United States in 2011 as a winner of the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery. Emily has direct experiences with the criminal and immigration systems, and spent over four years fighting for her freedom. She speaks multiple languages, including English, French, Spanish, and German. In addition to her work at Envision Freedom, she is a real estate business owner in Manhattan and a member of Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) where she is an activist for LGBTQ+ rights.
Envision Freedom: Hey Emily! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. First, please tell us about how you became involved in advocacy work before starting your Fellowship?
EMILY MBENDEKE: During my 3.5 years of detention with DHS/ICE, I helped other detainees to look for pro bono lawyers. Some were lucky enough to get one, and for those who weren’t, I helped them to fight pro se. For those who were granted bonds, I helped them look for organizations who could help pay the bond and accommodate transportation to their final destination.
EF: What has it been like working with the Envision Freedom staff?
EMILY MBENDEKE: In my fellowship I have learned new strategies for how to fight, such as how to organize a march or protest, how to post bond, how to manage hotline calls from detainees and their families, how to lobby for a bill, and how to keep the community engaged.
In such a short time, you became such an important member of this organization. In what ways do you think your own skills and experience have been most helpful to the Envision Freedom team?
Envision Freedom offered me the possibility to officially do what I was doing while in detention. My personal experience as a survivor of the criminal and immigration system, even though my case is not completely closed, boosted my engagement because my family and I have experienced injustice of the system in a very destructive way. My engagement on my assignments with Envision Freedom has been outstanding, because I am a living testimony of the harm and evil we are fighting against.
EF: How do you think this Fellowship experience will help you do the work you want to do in the future?
EMILY MBENDEKE: The fellowship offered me the opportunity to experience the legal and non-conventional tools we can use to bring the changes desired. Eventually I will be able to add my own personal approach when the time comes.
EF: You do so much outside of your work with Envision Freedom. What’s a typical day in your life?
EMILY MBENDEKE: As a single, undocumented parent of three children, it is quite challenging to raise mentally affected children. Not to mention that my own physical and mental health are mediocre. Fortunately, with the support of my community, I am able to have two different sources of income so I can provide food and shelter to my household. Primarily, it is a great honor to be able to raise the new army of abolitionists my children represent. Secondly, I’m working on my own healing as I’m suffering from PTSD from being molested as a child and the gender dysphoria resulting from being rejected for my perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. Thirdly, I’m working on my first book as an activist-abolitionist.
Envision Freedom Fund works alongside impacted communities to dismantle the oppressive and interconnected criminal legal and immigration systems. With freedom as our guiding principle, we invest in innovative campaigns and programs that aim to win long-term, transformative change, while meeting the urgent needs of community members in the present. Click the link above to find ways you can get involved.