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‘9500 Liberty’: Documenting the Immigration Debate

Posted on Jun 30, 2010
9500 Liberty

By Emily Wilson

The new documentary “9500 Liberty” is about the struggle over a law requiring police to question anyone they have probable cause to believe is undocumented. This premise may sound awfully familiar, but the film isn’t about SB 1070, the controversial immigration law recently adopted in Arizona; rather, it’s about a 2007 resolution in Prince William County, Va.

Annabel Park and Eric Byler, the directors of the movie, posted footage of the debates over the resolution on YouTube, which drew tens of thousands of hits in just days. The two have a lot of experience with new media and civic engagement. They also created a website, Real Virginias for Webb, to support Jim Webb after his opponent, George Allen, used the term macaca when talking about an Indian, and they established the 121 Coalition to support passage of U.S. House Resolution 121, known as the “comfort women” resolution. Byler has made several feature films, including “Charlotte Sometimes,” and he and Park are co-founders of the Coffee Party USA, a political action group. Truthdig contributor Emily Wilson talked with them when they were in San Francisco for the opening of their film.

Emily Wilson: In the opening scene of the documentary you have a man yelling at a group of immigrants, telling them to learn English. Why did you choose to begin with that?

Annabel Park: We talked about that a lot. It kind of embodied so many components of the debate and the story, not only because it’s a very dramatic argument where the division is very clear, partly because there’s a fence. You have one person on one side of the fence and a group of people on the other side of the fence, and the group had this big sign. They were gathering in front of a sign that said “Stop your racism against Hispanics,” and it was a sign that a Mexican-American man had put up on one part of his wall. It was a house that had burned down, and he left this one wall and put up a sign to protest. We were there filming the immigrants when this man came over and started yelling at them saying, “Learn how to speak English,” “You don’t belong here,” that kind of thing. It caught us by surprise, and we ended up becoming involved in that discussion. I started talking to him, saying, “Why are you upset?” and trying to get him to understand what their situation is. And I put my hand out to shake his hand, and he grabbed my hand and started really talking to me. And this wasn’t in the film, but we had a long discussion of the Asians who came here before the Hispanics.

The idea for me was we have this fence, and the fence itself made the guy feel safe about actually screaming. I tried to imagine the whole scene without the fence there and he’s just approaching them. I don’t think he would have used that level of tone. I feel like in many ways the solution to what we have through this polarized situation is to get rid of the fence, literally and figuratively, so we see each other as equals and human beings. My hope is that with the film we can start to get rid of the fence and help people to engage with each other, understand one another, and I think we’ve had some success so far. We showed the film in Arizona, and I certainly felt that people were ready to have dialogue after watching the film.

EW: How did people respond to the film in Arizona? What was the reaction like?

AP: The response was overwhelmingly positive. We did a bunch of Q&As and we had a couple of people say “Well, illegal is illegal”—that type of rhetoric. But on the whole, people wanted to talk. And I think they were ready to go beyond “Illegal is illegal” and “You’re separating families,” to let’s look at the details of this thing. How is it really going to affect us? What does it really mean? That’s what we’re hoping to do nationally.

Eric Byler: There’s a direct parallel with what happened in Arizona because the law was written by the same anti-immigration law firm in D.C. So the people you meet in the middle of the film in that hearing are the ones who are behind SB 1070. It’s a kind of boilerplate of laws that are designed to divide the community, but it’s also a political strategy because it always happens right before an election. There’s really three pieces. First, an undocumented immigrant commits a crime that’s easy to exploit in the headlines.

AP: Or they think it was an undocumented immigrant.

EB: Oh yeah, in the case of the rancher, they don’t know who killed him, but they found footprints leading to the south, so they know for sure it was an undocumented immigrant because you can tell by their footprints. So they sensationalize the myth that undocumented immigrants are responsible for crime and then politicians who are in need of an issue and then comes the legislation. So what normally happens is the legislation is mostly just a political football, it’s for the election. It’s not really for the sake of policy. 

EW: Why did you put what you were filming up on YouTube?

AP: I think after the first day of shooting I felt like we could easily do a feature film, but I think it wasn’t until we started realizing how misinformed people were about this issue that we felt the need to start sharing it because it would just be irresponsible not to. I mean if you have all this information and people are trying to make decisions on misinformation do you just do nothing? I’m hoping more filmmakers will do the same thing. They’re doing very timely documentaries, but it takes a year or more to actually share it with the world.

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By Peter Knopfler, July 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment

I have been an immigrant most of my 61 years four different countries, its fun when you know what your doing. Arizona is becoming a scape goat, Federal National park has been taken over by Mexican drug gangs and the State Police can`t for it is Federal Property and Obama says OK, to the gangs. Very tribal Philosophy from the man from Kenya Obama! Very revengeful fellow, don`t take my lead, Arizona commin to get Ya!
Isn`t it Cute that Illegals cross the border break the law and then Tell You your immigration laws. Here IN MEXICO a foreigner even a registered one for 20 years cannot go and demonstrate and you can not talk stink about the Administration in Power, Where these Mexicans get this crazy Idea that they can go into another country and change their policy, as they say ONLY IN AMERICAN certainly not here in MEXICO! HA HA what a joke this is HA HA! Funny!

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By rob, July 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment
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wenotme and dogmeat your both idiots did homes built by illegals get cheaper? the price of fresh vegatables have gone up around 50% the last year. when illegals get free healthcare and education where does that money come from to pay for it?  dogfood get out your constitution and read the first paragraph!!!!! im all for immigration im not for breaking the law. we are a nation of laws. people who are advocates for illegals are more than likely criminals themselves. just because mexico is next door doesnt give them the right to break our laws. what about others who want to immigrate and play by the rules? i sponsored someone from the philippines and i was responsible for them for 5 yrs. we live on the canadian border and still illegal mexican are commiting crimes up here. two just killed someone in butte montana. this is not about right wing. its been a law for 50 yrs that legal immigrant are to carry their papers with them.

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By Alizbuk Azureal, July 2, 2010 at 6:14 am Link to this comment
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Dogmeat—thank you for you comment, which, for me, shed more light on the thinking of many individuals living in Arizona and the enactment of laws governing that state than other articles I have read.  The enjoyable part of the article is that it was not riddled with words of anger or hate. 

Now,because much of the uproar against immigrants seems to be around jobs, is there anyone ‘out there’ who can tell me: specifically what jobs are illegal and/or legal immigrants (and ‘immigrants’ does not necessarily mean only Mexicans)taking away from USA natural born citizens, and how many of those USA citizens have applied for and been denied those jobs based on whatever fact/qualification? 

I am not asking the above question in order to create another tirade of ‘you are wrong and I am right comments,’ I am asking the question in order to hopefully obtain more clarity regarding a situation that only seems to be getting worse rather than better.

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By WeNotMe, July 2, 2010 at 4:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is such a false argument the Right Wing puts up every election.
The bottom line is the bottom line. Businesses need cheap labor. Americans need lower prices.
Until Unions get their collective mojo back, there will will be no real Immigration Reform. Immigration Reform is in reality, Labor Reform.

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By Arne C. Willetto, July 1, 2010 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
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I am always amazed how pro-illegal immigrant supporters equate anti-illegal immigrant as anti-immigrant.  “Eric Byler: There’s a direct parallel with what happened in Arizona because the law was written by the same anti-immigration law firm in D.C.”  That is not the case at all.  We are for sound, controlled, legal immigration policies that do not or will not encourage illegal immigration. Why should we hold non-latino immigrants to a different standard than latino immigrants. Just because more latinos can access the U.S. by land as apposed to sea?

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By cheyennebode, July 1, 2010 at 5:21 am Link to this comment
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By Dogmeat, June 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment
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It is odd that there has been this big spike in right wing idiocy coming out of Arizona though. Texas has a higher background level of crazy and right now Arizona is like a supernova taking the attention. I wonder how long it will last.

Actually it isn’t that strange. Arizona has been moving gradually towards the middle over the last twenty years. The population has doubled in that time and a big part of that spike wasn’t old retirees who tended to be conservative, but a lot of younger families moving from blue states, etc. In 2008 McCain only received 53.4% of the vote here in Arizona, his sixth lowest vote total among the states he won. Now think about that, his home state was one of his least supportive states. Had McCain been from Texas, Florida, etc., he likely would have lost Arizona.

This state has a long history of very conservative, often racist politics and the supporters of those policies aren’t happy that they are consistently losing ground to moderates and liberals (simply termed as liberals in their tirades). Because of how the state legislature is set up conservatives still have a major majority in both houses but, when Napolitano was governor, she vetoed a lot of their stupidity. In fact she set the record for vetoes in the history of the state. You take her away, bring in Brewer who is a wing-nut’s wing-nut, and you see incredibly stupid legislation that was shut down by a reasonable governor make it out of the state house. At the same time you see an increase in non-conservative population as well as an increase in non-white population and the far white err, right is freaking out.

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