Monday night at Liberty Hall, 644 Mass., is a screening of “9500 Liberty,” a documentary Roger Ebert calls “fascinating” and “deeply involved.” Lawrence residents may be surprised to learn that a local group is deeply involved in bringing the movie to town, worried that the events in the movie might also happen in Kansas.
“9500 Liberty” takes place in a small county in Virginia, where lawmakers enacted an Arizona-style “show me your papers” immigration bill. Besides spotlighting the sometimes harsh and shocking language used by proponents of the bill, the film follows the bill through implementation and documents some of its unintended effects.
When Latinos moved away, there was a retail slump, the tax base in Prince William County dropped, restaurants and shops closed, and the law was eventually repealed by an unlikely alliance of politicians and city officials across the political spectrum.
The Lawrence Action Network for Diversity (LAND) is bringing “9500 Liberty” to town to shed some light on proposed anti-immigration legislation here in Kansas. The group found interested co-sponsors in Films for Action, the Student Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, and Plymouth Congregational Church Mission Board.
“Many powerful people within our state government, led by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, are devoted to making a full-out assault on immigrants in this state,” says Lawrence Action Network for Diversity organizer Sean Weston. “This past legislative session, we saw unsuccessful efforts to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students who have attended high school here, as well as a failed attempt to pass [a bill that] would have forced police officers to check the immigration status of anybody of ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they are undocumented.”
LAND was formed six months ago specifically to respond to HB 2372, the Arizona-style bill that was introduced in the Kansas Legislature. Weston worked with a broad range of statewide groups to help stop this legislation—organizing an interfaith prayer vigil, attending committee hearings, monitoring the legislature, and sharing information via social networking, email, and word-of-mouth.
When Kobach came to the Lied Center to defend the bill, Weston says 250 people—organized by LAND—were there to protest. The group says that, despite its defeat, similar legislation will be introduced again in 2012.
“The advocates of harsh anti-immigrant measures were surprised at the opposition to their proposals last time,” says Weston.
Films are an effective way to get people involved and engaged, Weston says. “9500 Liberty” is particularly moving, and Monday night’s screening will be followed by a discussion, moderated by members of LAND, that is designed to prompt constructive conversation and get community members thinking more deeply about the issue.
“This particular film has just as much suspense, emotion and conflict as any full-length feature film — except it’s all real life,” says Weston. “This is an incredibly impactful film, and it serves as a reminder that anti-immigrant policies hurt real people.”
One challenge facing LAND and groups like it is that supporters of anti-illegal immigration laws have been able to frame the issue as political and financial, taking it out of the realm of social responsibility. Weston doesn’t see a divide, and is hoping “9500 Liberty” will help elucidate that point.
“Yes, this is about government and policies, but these policies affect the daily lives of millions of people in our nation, including far more than most of us realize in our own community,” he says. “The personal is political—immigration isn’t an issue than can be easily divided into a political side and a social side. I’ve come to learn that this distinction is usually made by those of us who have lived our lives with the privilege of citizenship, not having been targeted because of our immigration status.”
Although there are no immediate plans for more LAND-sponsored movie screenings, the group in putting on some street theater that dramatizes the implications of this type of legislation. The goals of the organization are to push out all kinds of education and host as many community events as possible.
“Some may like to believe that a person can be welcoming towards an immigrant by being nice in personal actions, yet still support policy that works against immigrants. This is simply not the case,” Weston says. “If Lawrence is to be fully supportive of immigrants, we must bring that support to the halls of government.”