Friday, October 23, 2020
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Eric Byler

Federal complaint filed after anti-immigrant sentiment kills housing deal in Lawrenceville, VA

Cross posted from Story of America: A Nation Divided

A federal complaint has been filed by Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) citing events that I witnessed and documented for Story of America. On June 20, 2014, I traveled to Lawrenceville, Virginia to film an emergency town hall meeting about the possibility of putting an Unaccompanied Alien Children's (UAC) program on the campus of the recently closed St. Paul's College.

HOME's complaint argues that immigrant minors were denied equal housing opportunity and subjected to discriminatory statements when public outcry, much of it clearly hateful, was cited as the primary reason for moving the program elsewhere. I have shared portions of the many hours of video I shot with HOME upon their request.

I learned a lot from reading HOME's press release below. In fact, it changed my outlook on what I saw that frightful evening. The lesson for me is this: sometimes public sentiment appears to be so passionate and so overwhelming that we assume it to be the only meaningful consideration when making public policy. But what happens if that sentiment, and the decisions that stem from that sentiment, violate constitutional rights and other rights that are protected by law? Although I did not see it on June 20th, I see now that the events I witnessed in Lawrenceville may be such a case.

It's easy to forget that our nation decided to outlaw unequal treatment based on race 150 years ago, and again 50 years ago. Whether or not political entertainment combine with current events to popularize overt discrimination, the law is the law, and it needs to be enforced.

The bottom-line is that our Constitution and legal system protects minority rights despite popular opinion. It's easy to forget this when the popular opinion is expressed so loudly and dramatically.

Below is the Story of America video I released in June documenting some of the discriminatory statements that are mentioned in the federal complaint.

CLICK HERE to read the blog post I wrote at the time, and please read HOME's press release below:  

Immigrants Are Not Criminals; Corey Stewart’s Comments “Mostly False”

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.)

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