In their no-frills documentary, “Out of Status,” Pia Sawhney and Sanjna N. Singh examine the actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service after 9/11 and the devastating repercussions for America’s Muslims.
Focusing on the experiences of four Muslim families between January 2003 and July 2005, the film portrays the immigration services (the I.N.S. was dissolved in 2003 and absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security) as a “uniquely dysfunctional” bureaucracy whose actions were motivated less by effectiveness than by the desire to appear proactive.
Many Muslims of unresolved status were forcibly removed from their homes and deported, like the Egyptian citizen Akram Said, whose application for political asylum had been denied but who had received no notification to leave the country, according to his wife, Carma, and an immigration lawyer, Robert Kuhnreich. Others fled to an overcrowded refugee shelter in Buffalo, hoping to enter Canada.
Filled with moving accounts of detentions and interrogations, “Out of Status” is long on empathy but frustratingly short on specifics. The emphasis on emotion over fact is bolstered by a 2004 interview with the pompous Jan Ting, a former I.N.S. deputy commissioner who served under President George H. W. Bush and who appears smugly unaware of any encroachment on civil liberties by his former office. He’s a camera-ready villain.
Rough in technique but worthy in intention, “Out of Status” listens to those whose voices are seldom heard. We need to hear more.