Before SB 1070 in Arizona, there was the “probable cause” mandate in Prince William County, one part of a law that divided a rural farming county in Virginia, in an emotional and polemic debate that was captured in the documentary 9500 Liberty.
In July 2007, the board of supervisors in Prince William County passed a law that, intending to crack-down on illegal immigration, required local police to check immigration status during traffic stops if there was “probable cause” to suspect that that person was in the U.S. illegally. The decision came on the heels of a growth of the Latino community due to a construction boom in the 90s which had lead to fears of over crowing amidst anti-immigration rhetoric locally and nationwide.
In a county with a population that’s 20% foreign born and nearly 50% non-white, according to the trailer for the documentary, the law and its “probable cause” mandate which many viewed as racial profiling, proved to be extremely unpopular. The law was contested by citizens of all ethnic groups and political beliefs, and by members of the local police force.
This is where film makers Annabel Park and Eric Byler come in, documenting the debates, arguments, protests, county meetings, on video and posting it all on their Youtube channel as it happened, in clips that would later be pieced together and become the critcally-acclaimed film Liberty 9500. Park and Byler attempted to show all sides of the controversy in interviews with board members, law enforcement officials, local citizens on opposite ends of the issues, and one of the men behind the drafting of the law, a blogger who fueled the anti-immigrant sentiment in the community in his posts that drew false parallels between Latinos and crime and once even attempted to claim that the Zapatista army of southern Mexico was moving into Virginia.
Also highlighted in the film were the economic repercussions of the law, which coincided with the economic collapse in 2008 as the film makers speak to business owners and other residents who were negatively effected by the exodus of tax-paying Latinos, legal and undocumented.
The law was later repealed in April 2008 when a coalition of Republicans, Democrats, religious communities, mothers, and community members of all ethnic backgrounds banded together to convince their elected officials to overturn the legislation and help put an end to the fighting, along with the negative image their their county had received as a result of the controversy.
Inspired by the events they documented in Liberty 9500, Park and Eric started the Coffee Party USA, a group that encourages citizens to get more involved in the democratic process, and will be holding a rally in Washington, DC on October 29.