An Immigration Flashpoint, Through Our Lens

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How did Prince William County, one of the richest, most diverse counties in the nation, become a flashpoint in America's battle over immigration? What led to threats of racial violence during public meetings and grown men screaming at children on the streets? And how did a team of Asian American documentary filmmakers end up in the middle, with both pro-immigration and anti-immigration forces demanding that they take sides?

On Oct. 9, Eric Byler and Annabel Park began posting short video clips on a YouTube channel they created called "9500Liberty" at http://www.youtube.com/9500Liberty. The "interactive documentary" project took its name from a street address in Old Town Manassas where a sign had been posted, reading: "Prince William Co. Stop Your Racism to Hispanics!" The sign -- on what was known as "Liberty Wall" -- protested a county policy that requires police to check immigration status during routine traffic stops and denies some services to undocumented immigrants. The county, like many places across the nation, is in the middle of a demographic transformation: Since 1990, its Hispanic population has quadrupled; today one in five of the county's 360,000 residents is Hispanic; and the number of Asians has more than doubled.

Since it started, "9500Liberty" has been viewed more than 270,000 times and garnered comments from all over the globe, including hate mail and death threats. On Friday, Byler testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

In the following two articles and a video essay, the filmmakers turn the camera on themselves and reflect on their experiences.

Annabel Park: I Can Relate to America's Identity Crisis.

Eric Byler: My Heart is Where the Bottles Shatter.

To see the video, click here.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company