Author John Grisham hosted a fundraiser in Arlington for Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center, The fundraiser featured the story of the Immigration Resolution in Prince William County, filmed by 9500 Liberty. I felt the entire story should be posted. Here it is, with credit to Mr. Hunley.
Manassas News and Messenger
ARLINGTON—A line of people started forming quickly around Prince William County police Chief Charlie T. Deane.
They wanted to introduce themselves, shake his hand, maybe even chat him up.
The eager group wasn’t all law enforcement members, though, or even people who had followed Deane’s more than four decades as a policeman.
They were interested in Charlie Deane, Movie Star.
Deane was one of a handful of Prince William area folks who came to the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre on Thursday night for the latest screening of “9500 Liberty,” a documentary on the region’s fight over immigration.
The issue, which flared in 2007, lately has taken a back seat to economic woes. But it played out again on the big screen and was introduced by an even bigger name.
The movie, 78 minutes in its current incarnation, was the centerpiece for a $25-a-head fundraiser for the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center, which advocates for low-income Virginians.
The event was headlined by best-selling author and Charlottesville resident John Grisham, a supporter of the Legal Aid Justice Center, which has a program geared toward immigrant workers.
“9500 Liberty” was made by Gainesville resident Eric Byler and his fiancee, Annabel Park, who lives in Silver Spring, Md. They began filming in August 2007 after Prince William supervisors first took on the issue of immigrants in the county illegally.
They first released videos on the Web site YouTube, and have gradually added to and tweaked the work. Thursday was the first time the current version was screened, but Park said it likely will be revised further.
The title of the film comes from 9500 Liberty St. in Manassas, where property owner Gaudencio Fernandez had posted several pro-immigration messages. The first was fashioned in 2007 on the remaining wall of a burned-down house.
The documentary chronicles the formation of a county government resolution seeking to determine residents’ immigration status, and the reaction and changes to that initiative.
Main “characters” in the real-life drama include blogger Greg Letiecq of the group Help Save Manassas and Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart on one side of the issue, and Fernandez and bloggers Alanna Almeda and Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel on the other side.
Thursday’s crowd of about 350 was overwhelmingly on the latter side, and they jeered footage of local folks mentioning 9/11 in connection with Hispanic residents and applauded at the film’s end.
But, after the screening, the filmmakers said they did not start the project with a position on the immigration issue.
They did feel compelled to express some opinions, however, especially about the need for Prince William police to check the immigration status of only those people taken into physical custody.
That’s how the law stands now, and Park and Byler agree with that. Initially, regulations called for status checks of anyone who violated the law and who police had “probable cause” to think was here illegally.
Those who supported the earlier version of the law were a minority of area residents but caused the region to be considered intolerant, Byler said.
“We wanted to help show the real Prince William County,” he said.
That seems to be the aim of county Supervisor Frank J. Principi, as well.
Principi appears in the film and was at Thursday’s screening. The first version of the Prince William immi-gration resolution was passed before he was elected.
But he pushed to remove the “probable cause” element, drawing praise from some and ire of others.
“Frank, I hope you enjoy serving on that board, I tell you,” Grisham said.
After the screening, Principi said seeing the film caused “different emotions,” including sadness at families torn apart when members had different status and at the economic impact of Hispanic immigrants—legal or illegal—leaving the county.
“What we need to be about is celebrating our diversity,” he said.
When he shook hands with Deane on Thursday, they joked about being movie stars.
The police chief said the immigration initiative required lots of training for the department and the juggling of protecting crime victims, following county policy and refraining from racial profiling.
“It was a busy year,” he said of the ordeal.