When I was working with filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler on the documentary 9500 Liberty in 2009, America was at an inflection point in its immigration policy. Action at the national level was paralyzed by rigid opposition on the right and distracted timidity on the left. At the same time, mushrooming unemployment and economic uncertainty created a feverish hothouse environment where proponents of harsh laws against undocumented workers were finding traction among state and local legislatures. The film dropped at just the right moment to inform the debate with its depiction of the unintended negative social and economic consequences of such legislation in Virginia, and audiences in 42 cities across the country were responding to its compelling story.
Alas, in a series of consequences-be-damned, politics-above-all decisions, such laws came to pass in a number of states. These draconian policies — even more severe than the one documented in the film — have already been signed into law in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere, stressing communities and bringing the first taste of billions in economic disruption as people vote with their feet to find friendlier places to call home.
It’s in this climate that the DVD of 9500 Liberty is being released on November 29. Unfortunately as relevant and prescient as ever, it continues to tell an important story of lessons previously learned, even as the continuing debate, court challenges and social-economic consequences unfold.