When a blogger and president of what he claims is the “largest grassroots advocacy organization concerned with the illegal alien issue in Virginia” started a “conversation” about illegal immigration in Prince William County, Va., the result was county legislation that required police officers with “probable cause” to check the immigration status of anyone they stopped who “appeared” to be an undocumented immigrant.
The county’s resulting struggle with implementing that law was documented in an interactive Web documentary “9500 Liberty,” which was recently shown in Georgetown.
Blogger-turned-political-activist Greg Letiecq is president of Help Save Manassas and Save the Old Dominion, organizations he formed with the aim of reducing the number of undocumented immigrants living in Manassas, Prince William County and Virginia as a whole.
Gaudencio Fernandez emigrated from Mexico as a teenager and became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s, and when his investment property at 9500 Liberty burned down in 2006, he dedicated a remaining wall as his own blog of sorts, a “Liberty Wall,” to protest the resolution Letiecq championed.
The two men, local officials and citizens were at odds over the resolution, with the “probable cause” portion of the resolution at the heart of the vocal battle. People on both sides offered opinions varying from calling the resolution racial profiling to saying it was necessary for public safety efforts and “taking back” the county.
Locally, Georgetown has been the focal point of Hispanic immigration in Delaware, with the 2010 Census showing the Latino or Hispanic population of Sussex County having nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, increasing from 37,277 people to 73,221 people – from 4.8 percent of the county’s total population to 8.2 percent.
So Georgetown was a likely location for a recent showing of “9500 Liberty,” and about 50 men, women and children gathered recently for the viewing of the film, sponsored by the Coalition for Justice, the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice, the Shauna Rose Kaufman Foundation and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
On their Web site at 9500liberty.com, filmmakers describe the film as documenting “the first time in U.S. history that an Arizona-style immigration law was actually implemented — and the surprising grassroots opposition that led to its repeal.”
“Racial tension and threats of violence erupt when Prince William County, Va., adopts a law requiring the police to question people who appear to be undocumented immigrants. Supporters of the law ride a wave of hysteria to an election victory. But many reconsider when the local economy feels the impact of a sudden exodus of workers, consumers and business owners. Despite fears of reprisal, a group of concerned citizens launches a ‘virtual resistance’ using social media, setting up a final showdown with the law’s ferocious advocates.”
Charito Calvachi-Mateyko of the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice said she was pleased with the turnout for the Georgetown showing of the film.
“We couldn’t have handled any more,” she said.
Viewers were treated to dinner, offered childcare with arts and crafts, and provided with a showing of the movie, with discussion following afterward. The Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice “promotes restorative justice principles in different fields of application.”
According to their Web site, restorative justice is a theory in which “the harm that is created by criminal acts is healed using techniques that include both the offender and the offendee. This is a multi-step approach in which all parties involved are brought together to acknowledge and analyze the event and to move forward in a positive, reconciliatory and healing manner.”
The Rev. Joseph Rushton of St. Paul’s said, in the discussion portion of the evening, that it was important to remember that the bloggers who first started the push for the resolution in Virginia were “not the majority but a very vocal minority.”
“But if the majority of people who respect the rights of others don’t speak up, very bad things can happen,” Calvachi-Mateyko added.
Many residents of Prince William County didn’t speak up about the resolution until after obvious economic consequences could be seen through the high number of deportations and families leaving for other areas. After seeing the results, and hearing again from their citizens, the “probable cause” portion was reversed by a unanimous vote.
Amy Kaufman of the Shauna Rose Kaufman Foundation, who had previously worked with Calvachi-Mateyko and the Coalition of Justice, said the foundation had wanted to do more outreach, and the showing of the movie while offering art projects and games for the children “fit in perfectly with that.”
The foundation has a mission of “working to make the world a better place through art, equality and education, in Shauna’s memory.” Kaufman and her husband, Ian, lost their daughter Shauna Rose when she died in a car accident in June of 2009, at 17.
Rushton offered the space at the Episcopal Church, and Rose Mary Hendrix, president of the Coalition for Justice, also attended. Food was provided by Issa Luna.
Calvachi-Mateyko also pointed out to those in attendance that the Sheriff’s Office in Sussex County does not have arrest powers – something that is sometimes news to people moving to the area from other areas, whether they come from nearby states or foreign countries. A bill is currently proposed in the state legislature that aims to clarify sheriffs’ duties for the entire state.
Many of those in attendance thanked the organizations for showing the film and helping to make them aware of a situation that could affect them and their loved ones. They also pressed each other to show respect and to not be afraid to greet people and to take pride in themselves or the hard work that first brought them to the United States.
For more information on the documentary, visit 9500liberty.com.