The film 9500 Liberty, directed by Annabel Park and Eric Byler, highlighted the discrimination experienced by immigrants in Prince William County, Virginia. On October 16, 2007, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors unanimously provided emergency funding to enforce an immigration resolution. Consequently, this policy enabled police officers in Prince William County to interrogate individuals they believed could be undocumented based on characteristics like skin color and language.
This paper seeks to examine the social conflict surrounding immigration by analyzing different perspectives depicted in the film 9500 Liberty. The objective is to evaluate and critique arguments put forth by both parties. The documentary commences with an interaction between an elderly Caucasian man and a Latino group. The man raises doubts about their legal status in the country and accuses young Latino children of being involved in gangs, contending that they are undeserving of education in the United States.
The documentary captures his frustration and tension as he vehemently urges them to learn English. This tension is also evident in the way the white community treats the Latino community. The film showcases a social conflict that arose partly because of Greg Letiecq, the president of the blog “Help Save Manassas” on BVBL.net. Letiecq, who resides in Prince William County, started a movement to rally white citizens against undocumented immigrants due to his belief that the increasing Latino population was causing an “alien invasion” in his county.
The board chairman, Corey Stewart, became an ally to help him pass the bill. This bill would mandate police officers to interrogate any individuals suspected of being undocumented immigrants, aiming to eventually remove illegal immigrants from the community. The term ‘probable cause’ sparked controversy regarding its interpretation. Does it depend on someone’s skin color, speech, or behavior? When does it cross the line into racial profiling, which would violate our constitution?
Stewart claimed that entering the United States without legal authorization makes you a criminal. This statement caused a division in the community, both racially and economically. The division was between the members of “Help Save Manassas” and “Mexicans without Borders”. On October 16, 2007, both groups presented their arguments during a lengthy final board hearing that lasted over twelve hours. A white woman’s remark about 9/11 being the responsibility of “illegals” angered the opposing side.
Greg Letiecq’s divisive comments, like associating the Latino community with the Zapatistas, generate fear and hostility among his followers. Even documented immigrants who felt obliged to protest against the legislation joined forces with “Mexicans without Borders.” Among them was Daniel Fernández, a 12-year-old resident of Prince William County. Despite his own family not being at risk of deportation, he supports those facing unfair removal by advocating for their rights.
It deeply saddened me that young children, such as Daniel, were exposed to hate at an age where they couldn’t comprehend its significance. The Chief of Police in the county, Charlie Deane, provided substantial support to the Latino community. Deane firmly believed that the new law would create an atmosphere of fear and division, which he refused to endorse. Furthermore, Deane projected that implementing the legislation would necessitate spending over $14 million on officer recruitment and training. Consequently, this would result in a fifteen cent tax hike.
The law was passed by the board without considering its economic impact. An important supporter for “Mexicans without Borders,” Gaudencio Fernandez, the owner of the 9500 Liberty Street property, utilized a 12-foot wall as a blog to raise awareness about the issue and highlight the injustice faced by people of color, particularly Latinos. The aftermath of the vote caused panic among citizens from both sides.
As Latinos departed Prince William County to escape injustice, the predominantly white citizens, who had previously supported the bill, started to face economic difficulties due to the absence of immigrants. The county witnessed a peak in foreclosures, a decline in retail sales, the closure of businesses, a drop in property values, and a decrease in tax revenue. These were the consequences left behind as immigrants relocated to more welcoming areas of the country.
Following the aftermath, numerous residents who formerly favored the bill acknowledged their mistake and recognized that it was an error. This realization was further reinforced by the accusation of Chief Deane for committing treason. Among those who departed from the group “Help Save Manassas” was Chris Pannell, the membership director, who became aware of the immense problems resulting from the passage of the law. In April 2008, the Board of Supervisors convened once more to vote on the proposal to increase taxes and uphold the “probable cause” requirement.
However, this time the opposition was different. In April, “Help Save Manassas,” Greg Letiecq, and Chairman Stewart were on one side, while the County Executive, County Attorney, the Chief of Police, and many previously silent citizens were on the other side. These citizens had now decided to speak up after witnessing the resolution’s impact on their county. Initially, the vote was tied at four to four. However, after two hours of deliberation, Chairman Stewart changed his vote to ‘No’ in an attempt to avoid admitting defeat.
In order to avoid racial profiling, it was decided that immigration status would be checked in an informative manner. The state of Arizona was confronted with SB1070, also known as “The Immigration Resolution,” in 2010. The internet and blogging played a significant role in promoting this resolution, with Greg Letiecq being instrumental in its implementation. Being a white man, Letiecq used his blog to rally his supporters by instilling fear in other predominantly white individuals. He portrayed undocumented immigrants as criminals who were infiltrating the county, reducing property values, squandering taxpayer funds, and engaging in criminal activities.
Supporters from “Mexicans without Borders” utilized the internet and blogs to showcase their opposition to the new law. Alanna Almeda initiated the creation of “AntiBVBL.net” to counteract the posts published by “Help Save Manassas.” Almeda’s endeavor garnered significant success as it managed to attract numerous supporters nationwide who aligned with her viewpoint. Letiecq employed metaphors to bolster his argument and rally support for his cause.
In an interview with Annabel Park, Letiecq asserts that the Board of Supervisors, as appointed by God, holds authority to fulfill a purpose. According to Letiecq, it is imperative for all individuals to wholeheartedly obey those in positions of power, as it aligns with God’s master plan. Letiecq utilizes this religious perspective to convey to the county residents that disobedience towards government laws equates to defying God’s ordained blueprint, which no one desires. Moreover, Letiecq allegorically compares this notion to slavery, maintaining it as part of God’s divine scheme.
He states that the absence of slavery would have hindered our comprehension of the effort “to overcome that era in our past, to comprehend the injustice therein, and to strive to rectify it through democratic means, thereby gaining wisdom and drawing nearer to God.” However, Letiecq fails to recognize that he is not making progress but rather perpetuating a similar error, now targeting Latinos. During the October vote, several board members acknowledged their disagreement with the bill but voted in favor of it nonetheless.
One individual who supported the resolution solely for the purpose of being in the majority and because they felt compelled was John Jenkins, a democratic supervisor from Neabsco District. Another individual, Hilda Barg, a former supervisor who had served as the Woodbridge District Supervisor for 20 years, stated that casting a vote against the bill would not have affected the outcome. Barg expressed her regret for having to vote on that particular night and noted that many people were too afraid to voice their opinions due to potential retaliation.
In April 2008, Barg took a stand against Chairman Stewart during the board vote. She fearlessly expressed her support for opposing the tax increase and probable cause mandate. One recommendation I propose is to thoroughly assess the possible economic and social hardships that a law could inflict on society prior to making a decision, as demonstrated in the documentary where the board of supervisors neglected to consider the financial burden caused by their inflated egos.
It is essential that elected officials express their views and support the welfare of residents, as they have been elected by the community to represent them. Every individual in a community has a part to play in enhancing its strength. In Prince William County, Latinos took on crucial roles that others were not willing to do, making important contributions to the community’s functioning. The departure of Latinos had observable impacts on the community, including decreased retail sales and increased home foreclosures.
I am appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States to enact legislation that eradicates discrimination in every state. This measure is crucial in order to prevent a similar incident from happening again in Arizona. This plea holds personal significance for me as my father, who immigrated from Mexico more than three decades ago without legal papers, strongly identified with this documentary. He endured racial profiling and was forcibly sent back to Mexico despite not having engaged in any illegal activities while in America. Eventually, he reentered the United States as an undocumented immigrant and secured employment at a manufacturing factory.
My father, who applied for citizenship and married an American woman, spent the next thirty years working hard and advancing in his career. Throughout this time, he fulfilled his duties as a citizen and is currently enjoying retirement while maintaining his United States citizenship. He also owns a business in Mexico and has been frequently traveling between both countries lately. However, within the last year, he experienced intense questioning by U.S customs authorities on two separate occasions. As a result of these incidents, he missed flights and felt unjustly treated as if he were a criminal.
Despite incurring expensive costs, he has engaged the services of a lawyer to oversee his business operations and ensure his continued presence in the United States instead of going back to Mexico. It bothers me when I hear allegations that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans because we must recognize that the United States is sending job opportunities to countries like Mexico and China. Hence, our annoyance and tension should be directed towards the appropriate origins.