A homegrown docu whose message supersedes its unpolished feel, "Out of Status" reveals how the Dept. of Immigration is covering up lackadaisical management pre-9/11 with an anti-Muslim witch hunt that's failed to reveal any terrorists.

A homegrown docu whose message supersedes its unpolished feel, “Out of Status” reveals how the Dept. of Immigration is covering up lackadaisical management pre-9/11 with an anti-Muslim witch hunt that’s failed to reveal any terrorists. Helmers Pia Sawhney and Sanjna Singh originally presented the pic as a short, but as stories developed and material expanded, the need for a longer expose became apparent. Improved editing would create a greater thrust to argument and poignancy, but the docu remains both an impassioned defense of American ideals and a vociferous warning on how those ideals are being hijacked.

The human cost of misguided, patently racist policies is revealed through four families caught in a limbo world of forced or threatened deportations. Docu’s main focus is Carm and Egyptian husband Akram, torn apart due to a clerical error and now reduced to vid-phone communication until a hoped-for deportation waiver arrives. As the most sympathetic of the subjects — Carm was pregnant with their second child when hubby was deported — their story gets the most screentime, though helmers tip the balance toward irrelevant scenes meant to milk emotions.

Other victims of overeager, and misguided, law enforcement officials include Pakistani emigre Salem, arrested two days after 9/11 on bogus theft charges and held in prison for a month without an attorney. The Rahman family from Bangladesh joins an underground railroad of asylum seekers to Canada, where the Vive la Casa refugee center tries to cope with an influx too large for them to handle.

“Newsweek” editor Fareed Zakaria points out that initial overzealousness is understandable, but when fundamental problems persist four years later, there’s something systemically wrong with how the government is dealing with the problem. A call for mandatory registration of all Muslim men became a personal and clerical nightmare, and after processing 82,000 people, the project was abandoned with no terrorists discovered.

Helmers do well to allow the administration a voice, in the person of former INS official Jan Ting, but his staggeringly callous sophistry does the official party line no favors. Video and sound quality are mixed, but the frightening message comes through loud and clear.

Out of Status

Production

A Chai Break Films production. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Pia Sawhney, Sanjna Singh. Co-producer, Kathryn Barnier. Directed, written by Pia Sawhney, Sanjna Singh.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Emily Rosdeitcher; editors, Rachel Biles Sullivan, Kathryn Barnier; music, Will Peckenham; sound, John Grant; associate producers, Cielito Pascual, Ya-Hsuan Huang. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Time & Tide), Feb. 3, 2006. Running time: 66 MIN.

With

Michael Wishnie, Robert Kuhnreich, Nancy Morawetz, Fareed Zakaria, Jan Ting, Joanna Habib, Norman Eng, Molly Short.

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