October 21, 2016 | 4 p.m.
By Ava Bergen, alumni communications
Hanne Sandison ’09 worked with refugees seeking asylum in one of the largest immigration detention centers in the United States. Now, her ambition is to provide legal support for people who—fleeing trauma and violence—travel to the United States in search of stability for themselves and their children.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in May, Sandison landed a job as a judicial law clerk in Louisiana, where she hopes to gain experience and expertise before pursuing her desired career choice: immigration law. It’s a choice born out of her passion for representing people whose voices often go unheard.
“People are more complex than one issue,” Sandison says. “I’d like to be able to use my abilities and training to help people, represent them, and get at the truth in their difficult immigration proceedings, particularly in detention centers. It’s a privilege to be with people in a vulnerable and confusing time. Many refugees I’ve met don’t even realize they are in immigration detention—they think they’re in jail.”
In the midst of the Central American refugee crisis of 2014, Sandison traveled with Greater Boston Legal Services to Dilley, Texas, home of the largest family immigration detention center in the United States. There, she prepared occupants for the first step of the asylum process: the credible fear interview.
During the interview, immigrants must express fear of persecution upon return to their country of origin. In other words, to be considered for asylum, immigrants must show they face imminent danger after deportation.
“I went and simultaneously hated and loved the experience in Dilley,” Sandison says. “It was a horrible situation to observe. It was difficult to grasp that something like this was happening here. But I also thought, ‘This is a situation where I can make a positive difference.’ I can connect with these women, listen to their stories, and help them make sense of the highly-technical process they are navigating. Many of these women haven’t had a formal education and don’t speak English. How can you possibly know justice has been done unless you listen and treat every immigrant as an individual?”
During her time at Bethel, Sandison double-majored in Spanish and international relations and put her sense of justice to work by co-founding and leading Bethel’s chapter of International Justice Mission, a society still operating today.
“At Bethel I was asking myself some big questions, like, ‘Ok, what do I want to do? Who do I want to be?’” Sandison says. “I found a home in the political science department with many of the international relations students. We shared similar passions about the broader world.”
Many refugees are unrepresented in immigration proceedings because they lack funds and the threat of deportation haunts potential payment. Yet Sandison doesn’t seem to care about the money. For her, it’s an act of faith and an honor.
“My career choice is a direct result of my faith,” she says. “I feel God’s presence in the difficult moments, and I see the faces of my clients, whom I love.”
Sandison and her husband Kyle live in New Orleans, Louisiana.