9500 Liberty

9500 Liberty is about what happened in Prince William County, Virginia, when the Board of County Supervisors passed an ordinance similar to the SB 1070 bill in Arizona. The law required police officers to question anyone that they had “probable cause” to believe is an undocumented immigrant, a clear invitation to racial profiling. The new law is championed by a group called Save Manassas (Manassas is a town in Prince William), which is headed by a right-wing blogger named Greg Letiecq. The bill is opposed by immigrants’ rights groups, but the Board nonetheless passes it unanimously. The language of the law was written by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center has called FAIR a hate group. FAIR also wrote Arizona’s SB 1070.

After the law is passed, individuals emerge to oppose it. Gaudencio Fernandez, a Mexican immigrant, builds a sign on his property at 9500 Liberty that denounces the law. Two women, Alanna Almeda and Elena Schlossberg, become outspoken and relentless opponents of the law. (Both of them are Republicans, interestingly enough.) The two of them are ignored at first, but when they create a website, they begin to find support in the community. Eventually the law is amended, and the “probable cause” clause is taken out.

The film shows how the law adversely affected the county’s economy. People moved away, fearing harassment from the police. This caused local businesses to suffer. It also caused housing values to go down. The film also shows how the Internet has changed the way political organizing is done. What I found particularly interesting is that it also shows how supporters of the law tried to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. This dovetails with the experiences I had working with immigrants’ rights groups in Southern California. A friend of mine was struck by a car driven by a leader of the local Minutemen. The police never pressed charges against the man.

9500 Liberty ends on an optimistic note. It shows that people can stand up to right-wing hate groups. However, it doesn’t address the larger question of the role that the demonization of immigrants plays in our economy. Still, I highly recommend this film.

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