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9500 Liberty

The immigration fight is, and has long been, within the GOP

This blog is the result of an email to Washington Post reporter Tara Bahrampour as she was researching an article about Prince William County 5 years later.

by Eric Byler

I’ve spent a lot of time studying and trying to combat the blinding effects of partisanship. Looking back at the immigration culture war in Prince William County in 2007-2008, I think it’s clear that a lot of the leaders just wanted Republicans to win. The 2007 race for Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors was, of course, important to Corey Stewart. But also, a lot of Republicans were looking with dread toward 2008 (as SB 1070 author Michael Hethmon explains in our film, see video below), fresh off the heels of Jim Webb’s surprise win in the 2006 Virginia Senate race.

They needed an “angry wave” to rescue them. And, they saw a lot of potential energy flowing from Lou Dobbs, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh. They could see that energy pulsing through people like Greg Letiecq and Corey Stewart, all flowing straight into the homes of everyday Americans who trusted what they were told. We are being invaded. Immigrants carry Leprocy. Immigration hurts our economy. Immigrants commit crime. Too many people are speaking Spanish, etc. If politics in 2007 and 2008 could be reframed as a white vs. Hispanic issue, many Republicans believed they would get 80% of the white vote instead of just 60%, and thus, it wouldn’t matter how many Hispanics and other people of color made it to the polls.

The popular wisdom is reversed now, but back in 2007, Republicans did not need to look far for proof of the power of the angry wave — it had destroyed President Bush’s attempt at CIR in 2006 and 2007 even with bipartisan support in the Senate.  Now it’s 2013, President Obama has been elected twice thanks to a multi-racial coalition led by Hispanic voters, and the wisdom in the Republican party is that it’s time to go back to the party they were before Lou  Dobbs went crazy.

When GOP strategy shifts, so  too does GOP media.  It will be interesting to see what happens as the immigration narrative flow shifts to the center. The work of Greg Letiecq and Chairman Corey Stewart was so powerful back in 2007 because it permeated people’s homes, streaming into their living rooms and studies through local news reports on their TV’s, and blog posts on their computers. They invited people to help push the narrative along — many of the most frightful things posted to Greg’s blog, for instance, came from his readers. As David Frum would say, they were all the more invested in the narrative because they helped to script it.

But what happens when the show-runners at the top decide to flip the script? What happens when GOP strategists decide the “angry wave” is a dead-end, and suddenly “amnesty” and “anchor baby” are no longer used to trigger rage, fear, donations, and action…? Will the consumers of these media products go along with the sudden shift, or will they resist?

GOP primary races this year and next will reflect a cognitive dissonance — if conservative media products are always right, how come they were telling me the opposite last year? All of this will take place in the context of the Tea Party phenomenon, which used the same blueprint and, in fact the same email database (I have video to back this up).

The angry wave will continue on the web and in the populace. Will the powerful tools used to create the wave be powerful enough to stop it?

Categories: Uncategorized.

Congratulations Chief Deane on 42 Years of Service, and Enjoy a Retirement Well Deserved

Chief Charlie Deane is retiring after 42 years of outstanding service to the people of Prince William County and impeccable leadership for law enforcement communities across America. Please sign the card below, to be delivered to the Chief upon his retirement Sept. 1.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Tuesday July 10: National Town Hall on Immigration with 9500 Liberty directors, hosted by Link TV

Live stream by Ustream

“As we diagnose and seek to heal from the anti-immigrant electioneering that has plagued the American economy and the American political process in recent years, it is helpful to trace it back to its source.”
—Eric Byler

From Link TV:

Join us on Tuesday, July 10 at 12:20pm PT/3:20pm ET for a LIVE online screening of 9500 Liberty.  The 80 minute film will be followed by a Q&A with Annabel Park and Eric Byler. Park and Byler will be taking viewer questions about the film and answering them LIVE online.

9500 Liberty is currently airing on Link TV (DIRECTV Channel 375 DISH Network Channel 9410).  On Tuesday July 10, Link TV is hosting a national town hall via UStream to talk about immigration and anti-immigration policy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s first ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070, and in the context of having just screened the award-winning film that documents the first time such a law was implemented, and what led to its repeal.

9500 Liberty, the film that inspired Coffee Party USA

by Annabel Park

If I hadn’t documented the process by which extremists took over the government in Prince William County, VA, I wouldn’t have started the Coffee Party. The truth is, we are all vulnerable to extremist tactics — at all levels of government.  This is a loophole in our democratic process. The way to close this loophole is this:

1) Get Information out

2) Build a sense of community by creating a place where people can meet — both face-to-face and online

3) Show up and participate.

In short: Information, Community, Participation.

A passage from this review of the film chrystalizes the underlying critique of America’s political process that led me to start the Coffee Party:

“9500 Liberty’’ is not just about the clash of immigrant Hispanics and white nativists, but about what happens when a community’s civic machinery is hijacked by ideologues and extremists — and what exactly it takes for the silent center to push back.”

“A cynic might observe that the latter got involved only when they saw their property values start to decline. An optimist would take heart in the palpable outrage of citizens — trembling this time with indignation — who have remembered almost too late that scoundrels are emboldened by silence. 9500 Liberty is both an inspiration and a warning.”

The brave citizens of Prince William County — Republicans, Democrats, religious leaders, business leaders, and stay-at-home moms — managed to achieve this in order to win control of their government.  The process is documented in 9500 Liberty.

Here are other reviews that I really like: Roger Ebert, Desson Thomson, The Arizona Republic.

For more information, go to:

Don’t Miss Tuesday July 10th’s virtual town hall on immigration: bookmark

Post Your Questions in Advance Now and Join us July 10 for the Live Discussion

Watch this Film on Link TV – Click for Airtimes and More Info

Categories: Uncategorized.

Overlooked in Arizona: public safety and a professional approach to law enforcement

NOTE: 9500 Liberty premieres today on LINK TV, and can be seen at

The precursor to Arizona’s SB1070 was briefly implemented and then repealed in Prince William County, VA 2008. Politicians and lobbyists who support harsh measures such as these do not want the American people to know why and how the law was repealed. And those of us who do know have differing opinions about it. But one thing we all share, regardless of our feelings about immigration, is a deep respect and admiration for the way that the county’s Chief of Police, Charlie T. Deane, patiently and respectfully led the county out of the bitter culture war that had disrupted law enforcement and government business for the better part of a year.

Chief Deane is Vice President of the Police Executives Research Forum (PERF), which issued an informed, professional response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold (for now) the “Reasonable Suspicion” Mandate in Arizona.

Here is Chief Deane’s quote, which does not speak to the constitutionality of the mandate, so much as its wisdom as law enforcement policy:

“This is a high-risk gamble that Arizona has taken,” said Charlie Deane, Chief of Police in Prince William County, Va., which considered but rejected a law similar to SB 1070. “It damages our efforts at community policing and sets you up for lawsuits from advocates on both  sides of the issue. There is no way around that. Prince William County chose a more moderate approach that requires immigration screening of all arrestees for violations of state or local laws.  This initiative has resulted in general acceptance in the community.”  [READ full document]

On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld, for now, the mandate, which forces law enforcement officials to use a subjective standard of suspicion (economic status, skin color, language proficiency) to determine whether to take action against private citizens, rather than conduct and risk to the community, which is the norm.  The Court allowed the mandate to go forward (as it has already in Alabama) until such time as they have the opportunity to review its constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause.  The Justice Department chose not to challenge the law on this grounds.  They used the Supremacy Clause, which clarifies that we are one nation and not 50.  The Court agreed with the Justice Department with regard to provisions of the law that make NEW law overstepping federal authority, but, they ruled that the “Reasonable Suspicion” mandate does not create new law because the federal government and local law enforcement are already cooperating (the Secure Communities policy for instance).

As the PERF document explains, this particular intrusion of politics into law enforcement hurts public safety in the following ways:

  1. It is an unfunded mandate that drains time and resources from public safety duties, and pulls officers and deputies off of their patrols to handle immigration investigation
  2. It undermines trust between law enforcement and communities of color, making it less likely that crimes are reported, and less likely that witnesses come forward to provide information in the course of investigations.  It’s hard to solve a crime that isn’t reported.  And, unreported crime impacts public safety as much, if not more, than reported crime.  But even crime statistics that reflect reported crimes show that anti-immigration electioneering (and the polices that result from it) make communities less safe.
  3. It will lead to law suits — from both sides of the issue — which further erodes a community’s trust in law enforcement, and further drains financial resources

Below are Chief Deane’s remarks from July 10, 2007, which many in Prince William County consider to be prophetic, and, unlike the anti-immigrant electioneering that forced this law upon his police department, informed by years of experience in law enforcement. On this day, the Board of Supervisors decided to vote to implement a law that had been written by an anti-immigration lobbying firm in nearby Washington DC, without doing research into how it would impact public safety, the local economy, and the fiscal solvency of the county government.

It was the Board’s discovery on these three matters, as shown in 9500 Liberty, that ultimately caused them to reverse themselves and repeal the “Probable Cause” Mandate only 8 weeks after it was implemented. In the video below, which was part of our interactive presentation of the story on YouTube but not part of the feature film, the policy change was accurately explained to the public for the first time.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Anti-Immigrant Lobby Wrong to Celebrate SB 1070 Ruling: Supreme Court Issues Death Sentence for “Reasonable Suspicion” Mandate

by Eric Byler

Here is my initial reading of the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Obama administration with regard to Arizona’s historic immigration law, SB 1070:

  • I was wrong. I predicted (below) that the Supreme Court would go beyond the scope of the case before them, and strike down Arizona’s SB 1070 in total based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  Instead, they ruled as the Obama administration argued that the law violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, and thus clarified that the United States is one country, not 50, and that only the federal government can make foreign policy, immigration policy, trade policy, etc.
  • I will be proven RIGHT in time. The Obama administration decided not to challenge the most controversial part of SB 1070, the requirement that law enforcement officials check immigration status based on a subjective standard of suspicion.  I predicted based on recent case history that the Court would go beyond the case as argued and make a more sweeping decision (as it has to expand the power of multi-national corporations to influence our elections and limit the power of trade unions to do so).  Instead, the Court seemed to rule with 14th Amendment blinders on, saying that the “Reasonable Suspicion” does not violate the Supremacy Clause but implying strongly that it does violate Equal Protection.
  • Kennedy’s majority opinion essentially delays the civil rights ruling for another case, presumably one that shows that a person has been detained under SB 1070  just to check their immigration status, which the Court writes would be unconstitutional.  Kennedy writes: “This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”When a challenge based on Equal Protection reaches the Supreme Court, it seems evident that a 6-3 decision wills strike down this provision as well.  (Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor agreed with Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Scalia,  Thomas and Alito filed opinions partly agreeing and partly disagreeing).
  • The upshot: The “Reasonable Suspicion” mandate is the part of the Arizona immigration law that is the most controversial, and, it is the only part that is still in place after today’s ruling.  Law enforcement in Arizona cannot begin  to apply the law differently to those who appear to be immigrants (as Alabama is already doing), until after the injunction that led to today’s ruling is lifted by US District Court Judge Susan Bolton.  Judge Bolton is currently considering challenges to the law based on Equal Protection.  These “Reasonable Suspicion” laws claim to be Constitutional because the immigration status checks are mandated after a legal stop — which is to admit that it would be illegal to stop someone just because they look like an immigrant, but claim that is okay to require law enforcement to apply a suspicion standard once a person has been stopped for rolling through a stop sign or committing a crime.  This is the theory of the law, but if in practice it deprives citizens and legal residents of Equal Protection under the law (for instance, people with darker skin are pulled over more often for minor traffic violations and/or held for a longer period of time once they are) the “Reasonable Suspicion” mandate will be struck down when a case is brought that proves as much.


Why the Supreme Court Will Strike Down Arizona’s Immigration Law

by Eric Byler

If I had to put money on it, I would bet that the United States Supreme Court will strike down Arizona’s immigration law, and with it, Alabama’s law, and every other copycat stemming from the failed “Probable Cause Mandate,” repealed after only 8 weeks by a Republican-dominated, Virginia county government in April 2008.

In Virginia, as you can see here (trailer) or here (full length film), the mandate was repealed due to its negative impact on the fiscal solvency of the county government, on the local economy, and on public safety. Also, the Bush Administration had forewarned the county government that they would be filing a racial profiling law suit, which would have been expensive to defend. Now the Obama administration is tasked with protecting the rights of American citizens and residents.  My prediction would be a no-brainer if not for the partisan framework through which this case, and others currently before the Supreme Court, is being viewed.

The Constitutional imperative for striking down Arizona’s ALEC-sponsored law is plain as day.  The Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.  In April of 2010, elected leaders in Arizona passed SB 1070, which, if upheld, would require law enforcement officials to violate the 14th Amendment. This unfunded government mandate, already in effect in Alabama, requires officers and deputies to apply a subjective standard called “Reasonable Suspicion” to every person they encounter, even on a routine traffic stop.  If a person appears to be a natural born citizen, officers are trusted with the discretion to apply the law based on “risk to the community,” and that risk is assessed based on conduct; not skin color or language proficiency.  But, if a person appears to be an immigrant, public safety becomes a secondary priority, and, the officer is required to make an arrest, regardless of the time and resources it requires, and, regardless of that person’s Constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

Now, it is true, and I have written about it before, that the US Justice Department miscalculated in a deeply disappointing way by focusing on the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (individual states have no jurisdiction on foreign policy, trade, and immigration) and ducking what they must have feared would be a more racially charged oral argument centered around Equal Protection.  But that does not preclude the Court from ruling on it anyway.  The Supreme Court has used a narrow case to rule on a broader issue in the past.  In fact, in the decision by which history will almost certainly judge the majority of the current bench, they did exactly that.

Citizens United v. FEC was, until its ruling on Jan. 21, 2010, a very narrow question as to whether or not a feature-length political ad could be aired right before an election.  Five members of the Court decided to rule more broadly, striking down a hundred years of campaign finance law and ushering in the “Dark Money Era” of US history, marked by unlimited and anonymous campaign spending by wealthy individuals, multinational corporations, and domestic advocacy groups such as trade unions.

Perhaps because of this decision, the majority of Americans now view the Supreme Court as a political body that reshapes our Constitution to fit ideological and even partisan agendas.  I prefer to believe that Citizens United was an honest mistake, and, that the five conservatives on the Court are more thoughtful and complex than they appear based on their rulings.

But even if you believe that the Court puts Republican party interests above Constitutional scholarship, consider the fact that the establishment wing of the Republican Party (to which five of the Justices are said to belong) has no love lost for the collusion of interests that support the “Reasonable Suspicion” mandate:

(1) Outliers within the Republican party who are either extreme on social issues, or believe they can steamroll through primaries by pandering to extremists on social issues

(2) The private prison industry, which stands to profit immensely by extracting resources from state governments that would otherwise go to public safety, hospitals, education, and transportation

(3) The anti-immigrant lobby in Washington, which has been working for three decades to reverse the “browning of America” but never gained any traction until they exploited the attacks of September 11th, 2001 to conflate immigration and national security

Equal Justice Under LawFuthermore, if you believe the conservatives on the Court spend their time thinking of ways to stick it to President Obama, consider this:  As Mitt Romney woos Sen. Marco Rubio as his running mate, and as the Republican party tries to decide whether to embrace President Obama’s embrace of the Rubio approach to the DREAM Act, it’s clear that mainstream Republicans are troubled by the near-term and long-term political ramifications of to anti-immigrant electioneering during each of the past two GOP presidential primaries (most notably, voiced by Romney) and in states like Arizona.  The best way for the conservatives on the Court to improve Republican electoral prospects would be to upstage President Obama’s appeal to America’s immigrant communities by striking down the Arizona law, based on the very argument that the Obama administration was too timid to make — the fundamental right of all Americans, including Latinos and others who appear to be immigrants, to Equal Justice Under Law.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Immigrants Not Criminals, Corey Stewart “Mostly False”

by Eric Byler

Recently several people in Prince William County, Virginia were elated to send me word that Politifact has rated as “mostly false” four years worth of electioneering slogans uttered by Chairman Corey Stewart, who figures heavily in the documentary film I co-directed with Annabel Park, 9500 Liberty.  His comments are about immigrants and crime, essentially patting himself on the back for reducing crime by chasing away immigrants.  I have objections to this claim that go beyond its inaccuracy.

It would be nice if Chairman Stewart’s status as the top elected official in one of the nation’s largest counties was enough to qualify his comments for fact-checking BEFORE they are quoted and telecast in mainstream media.  Sadly, this has not often been the case since our saga began in July of 2007.  But, with the Chairman’s recent announcement that he is running for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s Lt. Governor, it looks as if that is about to change.  If so, I predict that he will revise or eliminate the “immigration culture warrior” theme from his narrative.

(I wrote my own analysis of Prince William County’s crime statistics two years ago, and, frankly I like mine a bit better.  But Politifact digs deeper into the data, comparing the county’s crime reports to those of the Commonwealth and the FBI.)

Chairman Stewart has several other skills to market to Virginia voters, and many things on his record that mainstream Virginians could appreciate. I don’t understand why he tries so hard to pander to a segment of the Republican party that prioritizes anxiety about demographic shift over public safety, the economy, and fiscal responsibility.  The majority of people in Prince William County disagree with these priorities, the majority of people in Virginia disagree, and the majority of the people in America disagree.  In fact, if you watch our film, members of the Prince William County government including at least 6 of the 8 members of the Board of Supervisors — also disagree.  That’s why the county’s ‘probable cause’ mandate — the first ever instance of Arizona and Alabama’s ‘reasonable suspicion’ laws written by the same self-described anti-immigration lobbying firm in DC — was repealed 8 weeks after it was implemented.

But my biggest problem with Chairman Stewart’s immigration electioneering is that it insinuates that immigrants and others who left our county during the culture war are more likely to commit crimes than other folks. Statistics show that immigrants and undocumented immigrants are LESS likely to commit crimes, and in fact, more likely to be victims of crimes.  In particular, immigrants were victims of robberies in our county because they were known to carry cash and were less likely to report crimes to authorities. The fall in “violent crime” is attributable almost entirely to a fall in aggravated assault, and this in turn, was attributable to Police Chief Charlie Deane’s implementation of a Robbery Unit to prevent and deter such crimes. Politifact points out that fear and distrust of law enforcement, due largely to the intrusion of politics into public safety, impacted these statistics by making immigrants and people of color less likely to report crimes in general.

Chairman Stewart is smearing people for committing crimes that, in fact, they fall victim to.  Back in 2010 I told him how I feel about this face-to-face.  He listened politely and without the confrontational posture he takes on while in public settings.  I told him that I felt that his rhetoric had fueled negative stereotypes and even prejudice toward immigrants and people of color — namely, that there is some sort of link between skin color and a propensity to commit crime.  He said he thought people were sophisticated enough to know that he is not speaking of any particular race or skin color. But, as I testified in the US Commission on Civil Rights hearing documented below, race and ethnicity were indispensable when describing the scapegoats who made the culture war necessary, and, when describing the purpose of the infamous “probable cause” mandate.

I’d like to see Virginia and America move beyond feelings like that, and I’d like to see our leaders move past exploiting such feelings in their political campaigns.  But most of all, it is important that we uphold our Constitution and cherished values such as fairness and equal protection under the law.  We must not allow political rhetoric that exploits prejudice to be codified into law.  The Supreme Court may choose to weigh in on this soon.  I hope they do for the sake of our nation’s economy, and for the sake of the public safety and fiscal solvency of Arizona, Alabama, and other states afflicted by this misguided, opportunistic law.

Categories: Uncategorized.

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It is wrong to say anti-immigration laws “allow” police to question people who appear to be undocumented

Here is something that a lot of good journalists are unfortunately getting wrong:

Arizona’s SB 1070, Alabama’s “reasonable suspicion mandate” for immigration status checks, and the short-lived “probable cause mandate” at the heart of “9500 Liberty” are radical shifts in police policy — not because what they “allow” local law enforcement to focus on immigration status instead of public safety — but because they REQUIRE them to do so.  Both provisions were written by an anti-immigration lobbying firm in Washington with no expertise in law enforcement.  And both REQUIRE — not allow — local law enforcement to act based on a standard that is difficult to distinguish from racial profiling.  This is only one of the reasons why law enforcement leaders across the country are against such mandates.

Both laws require police to attempt to determine the legal status of a person they have detained in a lawful stop, if, in their judgment, the person meets a standard of suspicion.  The standard is called “reasonable suspicion” in SB 1070.  In Prince William County, VA’s “Immigration Resolution,” the standard (removed after 8 weeks of implementation) was called “probable cause.”

Here is why I have such a problem with “ALLOW.” First of all, police officers are “allowed” to ask anything they want to ask to identify a person, and they always have been.  (We also have a right not to answer.) Over the years, best practices studies have shown that mixing public safety duties with immigration status checks has a negative impact on public safety, because it erodes trust between law enforcement and communities with which they need to cooperate and communicate in order to do their job.  So, most local law enforcement agencies do not require immigration status checks based on a standard of suspicion or anything else.


Categories: Uncategorized.


Surprise ruling on Alabama immigration law warrants look at the only place in America where such a law was actually implemented

Equal Justice Under Lawby Eric Byler

A surprising ruling by U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, which upholds most of Alabama’s controversial immigration law HB 56, calls into question the meaning of the words inscribed on the face of the U.S. Supreme Court building: “Equal Justice Under Law.” The 11th Circuit Court will now hear an appeal.  But while our nation waits for the courts to decide whether it is legal to require the police to check immigration status based on a subjective standard of suspicion, let’s consider also whether it is sound policy.

I happen to live in the only jurisdiction in America that has ever implemented such a law.  Here in Prince William County, VA, the “Probable Cause Mandate” was on the books for eight weeks in March and April of 2008.  I didn’t just watch it happen.  I filmed it.  The story of how the law came to be, and the surprising grassroots coalition that arose to help repeal it, is captured in a film I co-directed with Annabel Park called 9500 Liberty.

The most radical provisions in Arizona’s SB 1070 were blocked by federal courts in July of 2010, meaning that any further attempts to pass this law would first require millions of dollars in legal fees.  In part for this reason, only Alabama and Georgia followed Arizona’s lead after zeal for the law erupted all over the U.S.  But there were a host of other reasons why the only jurisdiction in America to actually TRY this law ended up repealing it after only 8 weeks.

From talking to numerous elected and appointed officials in Prince William County government (including many who had originally voted for the law), the “Probable Cause Mandate” was repealed because it was damaging to the county’s economy, its housing market, and its reputation, all of which made it more difficult to attract new home owners, new investors, and new business owners.  At the height of the controversy, Prince William County’s home foreclosure rate was 5 to 7 times the average for the region, so high in fact that George Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis had to redesign their charts.

But the biggest reason for the policy’s repeal was that the Bush Justice Department had put the county on notice that the federal government planned to join the first law suit filed by a county resident who could prove that his or her Constitutional right to equal protection under the law had been violated, not by the misconduct of a police officer, but by an unprecedented legislative mandate being dutifully followed.   This would have meant county taxpayers would have to foot the bill for court challenges that would have likely have gone all the way up the Supreme Court.  That’s millions of taxpayer dollars down the tubes, and we haven’t even gotten into the cost of implementing the law.

As seen in the film, the Chief of Police was forthright with the Board of Supervisors.  Although he never publicly opposed the law, he explained to the Board from the beginning that if his officers were going to be pulled off of public safety duty in order to do immigration enforcement, he would need to hire additional officers in order to maintain the level of public safety the county then enjoyed (crime had been falling for 15 years — the same years, by the way, during which the immigrant community had quadrupled).

For this and many other reasons — such as renting additional jail space from neighboring jurisdictions — the law was very expensive to implement.  Original estimates topped $14,000,000 over five years, and as those estimates began to climb, the Republican Board of Supervisors began to have second thoughts about the tax increases that would be necessary to pay for them (as it was, the tax rate increased by 25%).  Thus, the law was repealed on April 29, 2008 with only County Chairman Corey Stewart protesting.  The film documents how he refused to come out from the back chamber for two hours once he realized he’d lost the support of the 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats who sat with him on the Board.  (By the way, Stewart’s opponent for County Chairman in this November’s election is Babur Lateef, whose family immigrated from Pakistan).

Considering the negative economic impact, and the costly legal challenges that the law made likely, the only argument in favor of it was the misconception that immigrants and undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.  Based on national statistics, many suggested at the time that this claim was false.  And, during a hearing of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (in which I testified), the Chief of Police showed that the crime wave being described by the Chairman and his supporters on political blogs was a fiction.  But more importantly, it was proven later when county crime statistics came out, not only showing that undocumented immigrants were committing crime at a lower rate than legal residents in the county — it also showed that the controversy and social unrest caused by the short-lived and very costly policy may have been a factor in reversing the 15-year trend of falling crime rates.  That’s right.  They passed and implemented this law and crime went up.  After the law’s repeal, crime continued it’s downward trend.

Statistics show a slight uptick in crime during the period of controversy, despite under-reporting in categories like domestic violence and aggravated assault.   The Prince William County Citizen Satisfaction Survey showed a steep drop in trust in law enforcement, especially in the Latino and African American communities during this period.  Law enforcement experts have since explained to me that victims of such crimes, often people of color, feel less comfortable contacting the police in general, and that political controversies that undermine best practices such as “community policing” only make matters worse.  As any good law enforcement official will tell you: it’s very hard to solve a crime if it’s never reported.  And if it is reported, it’s harder to solve if witnesses refuse to come forward.  Thus, everyone is less safe in communities where trust in law enforcement has been compromised.

The “probable cause mandate” and the culture war surrounding it caused many people to leave the county, destroying property values, deepening the county’s home foreclosure crisis, and compounding the global economic meltdown that was only beginning at that time (July 2007).  Business owners and developers, meanwhile, were hesitant invest money in a county that was constantly in the headlines for political instability and racial upheaval.  All of this added up to plummeting revenues, and the aforementioned tax rate increase of more than 25% percent.

Alabama lawmakers are aiming for a similar fate.  I hope that their elected officials will be willing to look at best practices studies, and find a more practical, less costly, and less damaging response to anxieties caused by immigration.  They might be wise to contact elected leaders in Prince William County, VA to learn what happened when the a very similar law was put in place.


CLICK HERE to see Annabel Park and me on a panel discussion about Arizona’s SB 1070,

filmed on the night before SB 1070 was due to be implemented (but was blocked by a federal judge).

Below is a scene from 9500 Liberty that anticipates the Coffee Party notion “information activism.”

9500 Liberty on Netflix

Categories: Uncategorized.

PRESS KIT (photos, audio clips, poster)

Annabel Park, by Eric Byler

(CLICK HERE to download hi-res image)

9500 Liberty co-director and Coffee Party founder Annabel Park reacts to hateful messages left for an immigrant family at 9500 Liberty Street in Manassas, Virginia.  The wall in the background was erected by a Mexican American citizen in protest of a law that required police to check the immigration status of those they had “probable cause” to suspect were undocumented.  This requirement was repealed after two months of implementation in April of 2008. (photo by Eric Byler)

Liberty Wall, by Vinh Tran

(CLICK HERE to download hi-res image)

Liberty Wall in Manassas, VA voiced opposition to a short-lived Prince William County mandate that required police to check immigration status of those they had “probable cause” to suspect was an undocumented immigrant.  The provision, written by the same lobbying firm that wrote Arizona’s S.B. 1070, was repealed after two months of implementation.
(photo by Vinh Tran)


Categories: Media.

“9500 Liberty” Discussion Questions

Sanity Rally

The following questions are designed for post-screening discussions.  You may also respond by commenting below.

1)  In Prince William County, Virginia, a compelling outlet for expressing public sentiment is Citizens’ Time, a period usually lasting about 30 minutes, where citizens are limited to 3 minutes to express their views to the Board of County Supervisors.  If you had three minutes to express your views on laws like the Immigration Resolution and Arizona’s S.B. 1070, what would you say?  Please consider the moral, legal, political, public safety, economic, and social arguments that caused Prince William County to implement the Probable Cause mandate, and then quickly repeal it.

2)  So often those who advocate for harsh immigration laws claim that an immigration “crack down” will result in less crime, and restore the “rule of law.”  And yet law enforcement professionals, with few exceptions, oppose the enforcement of federal immigration law at the local level, and they also make an argument based on public safety.  Can you summarize the opposing arguments?  Which is more easily substantiated by crime statistics and law enforcement best practices studies?

3)  Some viewers of 9500 Liberty express regret that it was the unintended consequences of the Probable Cause mandate — such as the 25% tax rate increase, skyrocketing legal fees, and negative impact on the local economy — that caused the citizens and the Board of Supervisors to repeal the policy, rather than a sense of racial justice or equality.  Do you sympathize with this sentiment?  Would you have preferred that opponents of the policy limit themselves to equal justice and divided family arguments only?


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Guidelines for organizing a 9500 Liberty screening

We are receiving so many requests for screenings, we decided to post the framework of our standard reply.  Please write to us at 9500Liberty @ if you’d like to acquire public performance rights, or bring in one of the filmmakers to take part in the event.

We would love to have you show 9500 Liberty in your community.  Successful events have already taken place in 35 states and at more than 40 campuses.

As you can see from the trailer, the implementation of the “Probable Cause” mandate for immigration status checks based on a subjective standard of suspicion directly impacted everyone in Prince William County; not just immigrants and those who lived among them.  The unfortunate political, economic, and social upheaval led to the building of a trans-partisan movement to repeal the mandate (after only 8 weeks of implementation) thanks to a coalition that included:

* Republicans
* Democrats
* Independents
* Libertarians
* law enforcement leaders
* the faith community
* the law enforcement community
* the business community
* the Latino community
* the African American community
* the Muslim community
* the Asian American community

When you plan your screening, please try to include as many of the above communities as possible, either as panelists or sponsors/presenting organizations or both.  Religious, business, and law enforcement leaders are especially valuable, and the importance of a trans-partisan participation cannot be overemphasized.  Please shape the discussion after the screening to look at how a civil, fact-based, solutions-oriented approach to this issue can lead to a more informed collective decision on how to address the issue of illegal immigration without damaging public safety, the local economy, or the fiscal solvency of your state or local government.

In a broader sense, you should use the film to consider the social conditions that were needed to allow the community to look at the facts first before making policy decisions.  This included courage and leadership from elected officials, community leaders, and ordinary citizens alike.  It included some new media and social media innovation.  And, it included all “sides” of the issue toning down the sort of divisive, distracting, violent, and dehumanizing rhetoric that blinds people to the facts, and alienates the silent majority, robbing the deliberative process of the more composed and forward-thinking community members, and making democracy look like an angry and uninviting circus.  What is needed when discussing immigration-related issues is a problem-solving approach that puts more emphasis on good policy than on electioneering strategies.  We often say that what happened in Prince William County can happen anywhere — and over the past year, this is proving to be true — but the good news is that in the only jurisdiction in America where this law was actually implemented, the people pulled together across partisan and cultural lines to restore civility and fact-based deliberation.


80 minutes (1 hr, 20m)


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Annabel Park on immigration, civil dialogue, trans-partisan collaboration

Why we are non-partisan from Coffee Party YouTube channel:

And to bridge the two, from 9500 Liberty to Coffee Party:

CLICK HERE to see Annabel Park and Eric Byler together on a panel discussion about 9500 Liberty and Arizona’s SB 1070, filmed on the night before SB 1070 was due to be implemented (but was blocked by a federal judge).

Categories: Uncategorized.


Controversy should focus on needs of the subjects of immigration film, not those of the filmmakers

by Eric Byler

The most important thing to say about the filmmaking & immigration controversy amplified in today’s article by Paloma Esquivel of the Los Angeles Times is that this video is great! My Asian Americana serves as an outstanding companion to the 2006 PBS/Independent Lens documentary Sentenced Home by David Grabias and Nicole Newnham.  Both films focus on the tragedy of Cambodian Americans who were deported due to knee-jerk changes to immigration laws in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

Although I have concerns about the authenticity of the marketing approach the filmmakers have chosen in recent weeks — they accuse the White House of a “lack of transparency” and dishonor with respect to a web video contest for which they were selected as finalists but not winners —  I do sympathize with them.  When you put your heart and soul into something, and when it is about a cause you care about deeply, there will be emotions flowing inside you that can sometimes be misdirected.

With the record number of deportations we’ve seen during the Obama administration, there is some truth to the fact that many in the immigrant community aren’t really sure that the President is on their side. While White House officials will be quick to remind us that President Obama has advanced a number of administrative measures on immigration, including detention reforms, and a case-by-case review of all deportations, you can count me among the many who are disappointed that the White House was not able or willing to embolden Congress to take on the anti-immigrant lobby in the first 100 days of the administration (before the Tea Party narrative took root on cable news, making any issue involving race terrifying for leaders on both sides of the aisle).

But let’s get down to the truth of the matter.

The contest rules did NOT explicitly say that the number of views received by the finalists would determine the winners.  It was clearly stated that not all the finalists would be invited to the White House.  As with any contest, not all finalists are guaranteed to be declared winners.

This quote from a White House email sent to the finalists puts a lot of focus on the number of views:  “As you know, the voting period of the challenge has now concluded. We will be getting an assessment of the vote count by next week and making a determination of how to proceed. We will send you an update as soon as this is ready.”

But if you read it carefully, and in context, it’s clear that the number of views is not the only criteria.  So, what we have here is a case where a film was not selected, and someone on the production team decided that framing the story of their disappointment in an aggressive and politically-charged way would essentially compensate for the publicity that they WOULD HAVE gotten had they been selected.  Also, taking a swipe at the administration probably provided a measure of emotional release.

It seems rather ludicrous to claim that the White House is seeking to suppress the issues raised by the film when indeed it was chosen out of 200 to be presented to the public on their website as a finalist.  It’s understandable, for reasons I stated above, that the filmmakers would choose this line of attack (that the administration does not want to deal with our broken immigration system) because (a) it assumes that the film could not have been excluded from the winners on the merits and (b) it offers the best chance of getting publicity.

If the filmmakers have been deliberately dishonest in expressing their disappointment and ambition through pushing this story, then what we have is a crime of passion.  It is the sort of passion that comes about when you pour your heart into a work of art in which you are deeply proud, and this passion is compounded, justifiably, because it is inspired by an important cause that needs to be addressed.

In my view, the best solution for all parties would be one that focuses on justice for the subjects of the piece, rather than for the makers of it.  For those of us who care about this cause, building up controversy over a contest, and the question of whether all finalists were entitled to be declared winners, will simply call more attention to the filmmakers’ aggressive attempts to gain publicity. This makes the filmmakers look bad, and undermines journalists and advocates who decide to run with a story that, at its heart, is simply not accurate. Meanwhile, I hope that the administration will choose not to respond to the filmmakers’ tactics and instead respond to the important cause that inspired this film in the first place.

The filmmakers may have stretched the truth in order to raise awareness for this cause, but let’s remember the subjects of the film have done nothing wrong at all.  They are people who have been victimized by a post-9/11 hysteria — and political opportunism — that fouled up our immigration system in countless ways, many of which can never be made right.  But the injustice brought upon these young Americans arbitrarily deported to a country they barely know can be made right. All we have to do is bring them home.

If the filmmakers are indeed, as I expect, doing all this for the right reasons, justice for the subjects of their film will mean more to them than an apology or an award or whatever it is that might address their grievances as competitors in a contest that they nearly won but didn’t.  It’s time for a beer summit for the Sentenced Home community, their advocates, and people inside the government who want to enforce our existing laws in a way that is just, and, fix our existing laws so that they serve the cause of justice and the cause of our nation.

In the coming years, we have an opportunity to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform that would address the Sentenced Home issue, and many other injustices that hurt immigrant families, hurt our economy, and hurt our country.  As Mitt Romney courts Marco Rubio for the Vice Presidential nod, and as Rubio and others formulate a GOP version of the DREAM Act, it’s clear that Republicans are feeling some buyer’s remorse with regard to the anti-Hispanic electioneering we saw during each of the past two presidential primaries, and for the embracing of policies manufactured by extremist lobbying syndicates such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56.  More and more each day, Americans are realizing that on the immigration issue and on many others, Republicans and Democrats have more in common with each other than either party has with extremists.

NOTE: When I was a young filmmaker I wrote a press release in promotion of the film Charlotte Sometimes.  I’m ashamed of it to this day.  The situation was that we were premiering the film at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), working up until the last minute to finish it, and the Executive Producer of the film, John Manulis, decided not to pay for postcards to hand out as a way of promoting our three screenings.  When I arrived with the cast of the film in Austin, TX, we saw that all the other films, even the short films, had posters plastered everywhere, and post cards to hand out in order to invite people to their screenings.  The initial shock of getting out of the gate so slowly ended up working in our favor.  We created some makeshift flyers, busted our butts to fill those theaters, and we did it with a lot of heart.  To make up for our sorry-looking flyers, we spent extra time getting to know people and asking them to support us by coming to our film.  Our audiences were on the small side, but they were filled with people we’d met and made friends with.  I’m sure this is a big reason why we won the Audience Award (we tied with another film actually) and this helped lift Charlotte Sometimes to the kind of dream-come-true success that can launch a career.

But, one thing blots my otherwise fond memory of the premiere of my first feature film.  It’s that darn press release I wrote to announce the award.  The final paragraph took a shot at our Executive Producer, implying that he was cheap and/or didn’t think enough of our film to pay for our post cards.  At the time I thought he was a really tough producer for a director to work with, but over the years, after making many more films, I realized he was actually the best producer I ever worked with.  I was just too young to realize it then, and, too caught up in the moment to see that I never would have had the opportunity to show my film at SXSW because John believed in me enough to produce it!  I never apologized for that press release.  But I have told him that I appreciate him as a producer and as a person.  I saw him about three weeks ago and it was warm and cordial.

It was a mistake for me to assume it would be good publicity to unfairly criticize someone who had done so much to help me.  In writing that press release, I should have been celebrating the fact that I’d made a good film and that people were starting to recognize it.

Sometimes, artists and advocates can let our passion and ambition blind us to our own principles, and the larger landscape of causes and issues for which we toil.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Facing the facts: immigration and crime statistics

It’s time someone refuted the deliberately misleading slogan claiming that “violent crime plummeted” as a result of the immigration culture war that took place in Prince William County, Virginia during the 2007 and 2008.

The fact is the crime rate went up slightly that year, even though it had been falling for 15 years before the controversy began.   Crime statistics provide an incomplete picture of public safety (they reflect only those crimes that are reported, for instance, even though unreported crimes impact public safety just as much if not more), but let’s walk through the numbers and try to make some sense of them.


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