9500 Liberty offers compelling look at immigration debate

For those in urban centers who are insulated from the immigration debate, 9500 Liberty offers revealing view of the contentious battle going on elsewhere in the country. The documentary film, produced by Eric Byler and Annabel Park, chronicles what happened in Prince William County, VA, after a law was passed in 2007 requiring police officers to question anyone they believed had “probable cause” to be an undocumented immigrant.

I saw the San Francisco screening of the film Thursday (Hyphen was a media sponsor), and what stood out for me was the stark language and the allusions to war being used by Prince William County immigration foes, who directed most of their anger at a Latino population that has more than doubled over the past two decades.

“Don’t ever forget 9/11, and who was responsible for 9/11? Illegals.” (Though a nice comeback was, “Don’t confuse 7/11 with 9/11. The guys at 7/11 just want to work.”)

“We are going to repel this invasion … and the weapons they’re using are their anchor babies.”

But how do you do force police to become immigration officers without using racial profiling? Really, you can’t.

What happens when you marginalize 20 percent of your community’s population? For Prince William County, a racial divide that forces the county board to rethink its decision to go after immigrants.

Byler and Park (who were featured in The Spaces Issue of Hyphen) deftly show the human cost of the immigration debate, and how the hatred and anger of a few can unravel a community.

9500 Liberty began as traditional documentary but Byler and Park realized they needed to get their footage out there sooner and started posting on YouTube. It became an interactive project and in the middle of it, the filmmakers became participants by joining the organizing effort to repeal the probable cause law.

Park said Thursday that was a simple matter of telling the truth, stepping forward and not being afraid. “Immigration is not a Latino issue, it’s an American issue.”

Byler urged people who live in diverse places like San Francisco “that have already embraced the 21st century” and are inclusive of immigrants to get involved in the fight so that a vocal minority doesn’t hijack the debate.

US Commission on Civil Rights member Michael Yaki said after the screening that the film “needs to be seen by every member of Congress.”

“The immigration debate won’t begin on a national level unless they truly understand what is happening,” Yaki said.

This post is also on Hyphen magazine’s blog.

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