“You can say you’re sorry, you can apologize, but you can’t give back the hours, the minutes, the months a family has been broken up.” — Carma Said
In the early years after 9/11, the Bush administration conducted a slew of raids, arrests, detentions, interrogations and deportations of Muslims throughout the United States. Most of the American news media refused to cover the events at the time.
Like us, some independent filmmakers pursued the story. Out of Status, which I created with my colleague Sanjna N. Singh, is one of a few documentary projects from that period. It highlights how broadly Muslims were profiled, held, subjected to abusive treatment and deported. Aggressive national security measures affected tens of thousands at the time, and tore apart the lives of countless entirely innocent Muslim families.
“It highlights how broadly Muslims were profiled, held, subjected to abusive treatment and deported.”
We completed the film in 2006, and only released it on YouTube on February 15. It has never been broadcast in the United States. At the present time, we feel it is essential people understand first-hand how these programs evolved and how haphazardly they were rolled out. Unfortunately, the film still feels current given the new Muslim ban that the Trump administration unveiled a few weeks ago.
Out of Status also remains unique on a few fronts. First, it is told in verité form, and follows four families over a three-year period. Second, it shows how each fell victim to a different national security program. Third, it features interviews with prominent immigration attorneys and commentators, including Fareed Zakaria (now at CNN), Michael Wishnie (now at Yale Law) and Nancy Morawetz (at NYU Law). It also employs a deep, investigative approach to policies and attempts to connect the rationale behind the programs with the impact on immigrant lives.
Furthermore, the film reflects how immigration law is typically some of the hardest to change politically. After 9/11, once the rules began to shift, South Asians and Arabs often found there was little they could do to contest charges made against them.
“It is essential people understand first-hand how these programs evolved and how haphazardly they were rolled out.”
Finally, although the nation’s immigrants continue to face unequal, inhumane treatment and a backlogged immigration system, Out of Status also reminds us that in spite of enormous hardship, America still endures as the land of hope and opportunity for many, and that the dream of a better life lives on in the hearts of those who take the risk to travel to its shores. The project is told from this perspective, especially, as we the filmmakers are immigrants ourselves and arrived in America in the mid-nineties.
Award and Screening History:
Upon completion, Out of Status was nominated for the Amnesty DOEN Award for Human Rights during its premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2006. The film earned prestigious grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and Experimental Television, won First Prize for “Outstanding Story” at the South Asian Journalists Convention in 2006 and subsequently aired on Channel 4 TV (UK). Out of Status also screened at film festivals worldwide and on European television stations. It was reviewed in the New York Times, TV Guide, and Variety and had a theatrical run in New York City in August 2007. Sanjna Singh and I were also nominated for ABC’s Talent Development Award for this effort.
Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd and many others contributed music to the project. We had a tireless and committed team as well, without whom none of this work would have been possible. We hope you will take an interest in the project. We welcome your comments, thoughts and feedback as well and wish you the very best at yet another tumultuous moment in our history.
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Pia Sawhney is an award-winning reporter, and has collaborated on productions for PBS FRONTLINE, the Los Angeles Times, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. Pia holds a Masters degree in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, a Masters degree in genetics and broadcast journalism from NYU, and an undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr College. She has published work to the Huffington Post, The Washington Post and other outlets since 2008.