“America’s Forgotten” packs a considerable punch, but it rope-a-dopes for the first few rounds.
Director Namrata Singh Gujral spends too much time clearing her narrative throat. Once done, though, the documentary offers a blistering rebuke to outlets that soft-pedal the dangers lurking along the U.S.-Mexico borders.
And yes, that includes illegal immigrants who repeatedly flout the system and kill innocent Americans.
We’re introduced to a number of people impacted by immigration in the documentary, including Gujral herself. She’s curious about the case of Gurupreet Kaur, a 6-year-old Indian girl who died while crossing the border. The director’s quest to learn the whole truth behind that tragedy is a critical “America’s Forgotten” arc.
We watch Gujral’s eyes slowly open to the truth regarding immigration. She shares inconvenient truths about Mexicans seeking a better life stateside as well as others around the globe.
In between, we meet an Iraq War veteran with his own ties to immigration and a Mexican immigrant whose border trek left her vulnerable to serial sexual assaults.
The stories all matter, but they’re initially staged in ways that demand more focus, more editing. For a while you’ll wonder why the movie generated so much heat, including the film’s crew asking to have their names off the credits.
Slowly, “America’s Forgotten” reveals its purpose. We learn about the “other” side of lax immigration laws, including families who lost loved ones due to the legal system’s bountiful holes.
What other documentary would include a mother mourning her son’s death by an illegal immigrant who was previously convicted of drunk driving -- twice? The man in question, Juan Zacarias Tzun, spent 35 days in jail before being sent back to his native Guatemala.
The film isn’t condemning immigrants as a whole. It’s sharing critical factors often left out by the media, including the reality behind asylum seekers. Yes, some immigrants truly are under duress in their home countries. Many others, though, simply want a better life, and they’re willing to risk everything to cross the border.
That leaves them at the mercy of “coyotes,” who leverage political rhetoric to lure people into their dangerous web. That means replaying video of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls vowing to give illegal immigrants free health care, and more.
One in three women, we’re told, will suffer sexual assault along the way. Others pay a steeper price -- their lives.
“America’s Forgotten” is mostly apolitical, but it spares a few salvos for two prominent Democrats. A father who lost his child due to an illegal immigrant torches Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for comparing U.S. immigration centers to concentration camps.
And rightly so.
Later, the film takes former Vice President Joe Biden to task for his lax immigration stance.
— Casey Diaz | Podcaster (@TheShotCallerBK) October 14, 2020
“America’s Forgotten” could use more sources to flesh out its arguments. The director’s journey to find the truth behind the Indian girl’s death, and the family’s backstory, lacks the urgency pulsing through the rest of the film.
The documentary is still vital, especially as it highlights ways to counter immigration woes. The film focuses on a sensible guest worker program, employed in the United Arab Emirates, that addresses business concerns without exploiting immigrant workers.
Gujral, a registered Democrat, also shames the U.S. government for not doing more for its veteran community. It’s another thread that overlaps the immigration issue but isn’t fully engaged enough to matter here.
The documentary doesn’t hold back when it counts, though. It isn’t an “anti-immigration” screed by any measure. When a victim’s father says, “we can’t bring them all here” it’s spoken out of both mercy and pragmatism.
HiT or Miss: The media feeds us only one side of the illegal immigration story. “America’s Forgotten,” while hardly perfect, perfectly fills in the blanks.