Out Of Status

  • 2007
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Pia Sawhney and Sanjina N. Singh's sympathetic documentary examines the effects of the post-9/11 War on Terror on four immigrant families whose religion or country of origin put them on Homeland Security's radar. An "out of status" person is no longer in compliance with the conditions under which he or she was admitted to the United States: They've overstayed...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Pia Sawhney and Sanjina N. Singh's sympathetic documentary examines the effects of the post-9/11 War on Terror on four immigrant families whose religion or country of origin put them on Homeland Security's radar. An "out of status" person is no longer in compliance with the conditions under which he or she was admitted to the United States: They've overstayed tourist visas, been denied political asylum or refugee status, or simply been the victims of clerical errors… some are illegal while others are mired in the complicated, perpetually backlogged and often painfully inefficient immigration system.

Egyptian-born Akram Said was arrested at his Pennsylvania home in front of his children while his American wife, Carma, was at work. After getting the bureaucratic runaround, Carma was finally told he had been deported because he failed to respond to a letter from the Department of Homeland Security, a letter Carma says they never received. Salem Jaffar, an American citizen born in Pakistan, was arrested shortly after 9/11 in Buffalo while looking at investment properties. Accused of stealing a car — in fact a rental vehicle — he was imprisoned for a month without legal counsel. Algerian-born Abdel Hakim Benbader was flagged during the post-9/11 ICE (U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement) Special Registration process (ultimately abandoned after it identified no terrorists), despite his pending green-card application and American spouse. Pakistani Abdur Rahman was denied asylum and relocated his wife and three children to Canada in hopes of being granted refuge there.

Singh and Sawhney alternate interviews with devastated families and expert testimony, notably from Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria, Yale law professor Michael Wishnie and former Deputy INS Commissioner Jan Ting, whose smug lack of sympathy makes him the voice of villainy: "Things happen in wartime," he says smugly. "I think it's fair to say, however, that the mistakes that have been made in the past have had no lasting impact." Ting isn't wrong to suggest that some families bear part of the blame for their situations, but he's so arrogantly self-satisfied that it's hard not to hiss every time he opens his mouth. It falls to Wishnie and Zakaria to provide a more balanced perspective; Zakaria makes the especially salient point that overzealousness in the immediate aftermath of an event like 9/11 is understandable, but that when it persists for years, it means fundamental changes in government procedure have been made. Sawhney and Singh would have better served their subjects if they had stacked the deck less. The moody piano score, especially, is unnecessarily manipulative: The facts are strong enough to stand on their own.

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Pia Sawhney and Sanjina N. Singh's sympathetic documentary examines the effects of the post-9/11 War on Terror on four immigrant families whose religion or country of origin put them on Homeland Security's radar. An "out of status" person is no longer in c… (more)

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