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Broken Stems: A Story of How California Prisons and ICE Tear Families Apart

March 20, 2024 Perspective


Lauren Nguyen

Lauren Nguyen

Communications Associate

Lauren Nguyen

Communications Associate

Lauren Nguyen is the communications associate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus. Prior to joining ALC, she led digital strategy at Restoring Justice, a criminal defense organization, and focused on social media and advocacy at the ACLU of Texas. Lauren has also served as an PIVOT Election Fellow for Rise AAPI and volunteered as an ESL teacher in her hometown of Houston. She loves cheering for the Astros and hanging with her dog Eddie.

California is home to more immigrants than any other state. Alongside our clients and our partners, we strive for a state that welcomes people into our communities, whether we were born in Vietnam, Mexico, Haiti, or Afghanistan.

In the past several years, community-led organizing, major lawsuits, and previously-unseen public records have exposed what is behind the closed doors of our state prisons. California’s largest public agency is systematically using public resources to profile immigrants and refugees, betray California’s commitments to rehabilitation and homecoming, and rip apart countless families because of where they're from or what they look like.

This comic project, Broken Stems, is a story about how California prisons tear apart families by voluntarily colluding with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Asian Law Caucus and illustrator Laura Gao are telling this story through the voice of Vyseth, a California immigrant who grew up with his family in Long Beach, not unlike so many of our clients.

While Vyseth is fictional, his story is based on the experiences of California immigrants and refugees. It shows a small glimpse of how the threat of deportation painfully jeopardizes ties to their families and communities. For many incarcerated community members and their families, the financial and structural obstacles of the prison system strain relationships with loved ones. Being flagged for deportation by our state prison officials is yet another blow. These experiences - of families being torn apart - are why immigrant communities are leading a statewide movement for equality and belonging.

If you would like to use the comic for educational or outreach efforts, please reach out to comms@advancingjustice-alc.org.

Art by Laura Gao
Color by Monica Nguyen-Vo

Stories and reflections from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Californians who are leading campaigns, lawsuits, and local and state advocacy to reunite families and create the stronger communities that are possible when people come home.