American Purgatory:
Political asylum
in the age of terrorism
Asylum seekers are often wary of talking publicly about their experiences, which is one reason why their stories are often left un-told. American Purgatory is a rare look into the asylum process from start to finish through the eyes of an asylum applicant.

The documentary takes listeners into the process of applying for asylum through the eyes of "H", an asylum seeker from a former Soviet country who came to New York in 2005. He was represented by lawyers from a large New York law firm that took on his case pro bono (free of charge). Very few asylum seekers are lucky enough to have lawyers. H goes through the process with their help, but throughout, he struggles to pay his rent and support himself without financial assistance or the legal right to work.

H's journey is surrounded by stories from others who have been through the asylum process?some without lawyers, some who were in detention?along with people involved in the system, including asylum officers, lawyers, advocates and critics, as well as the US immigration service and Homeland Security.

Through the voices of asylum seekers, asylum advocates and those responsible for enforcing U.S. asylum laws, American Purgatory explores the contradictions of a process that is there to protect people in distress, but also has to vet fraudulent applications and infiltration by terrorists.

Click here to access the site to hear the program.

Air dates: May 3 and 9, 2008, on KXOT (Seattle).

Producers: Sarah Elzas and Olivia Bueno