Hanscom also explained to the Senate staffers that new legislation is increasing pressure to keep asylum seekers in prison until their cases come before an immigration judge. The effects of isolation and indefinite detention are devastating to those already suffering from PTSD, she told them, and described watching clients have severe flashbacks behind bars. She told the story of a 19-year-old Sikh from India whose family had been killed, one by one, in an act of ethnic cleansing. They had pooled together money to send one person to America so that the family name would survive. As soon as he landed, the 19-year-old was sent to immigration prison. When Hanscom met him, he was in shackles and couldn't stop sobbing, saying, "I've done nothing wrong."
At the end of her meetings, Hanscom could only cross her fingers and hope her advocacy would make a difference. "We all have to chip at our little piece of the wall," she says. "Sometimes it's hard to see everyone else chipping at theirs, but you've still got to trust that's what they're doing."
Sometimes the wall even falls a little bit. About a month after our interview, Hanscom called—ecstatic—to say Meh Vivien had been granted asylum. I called Meh Vivien, who answered the phone, saying, "I got it!"
From the February 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.