This was one of the most disturbing nights of filming I have experienced in America since Oct. 16, 2007 in Prince William County, VA (when, after 12 hours of heated public testimony, the Board of County Supervisors voted to fund a law requiring police to check immigration status based on a "probable cause" standard dangerously close to mandatory racial profiling).
On the day after the Lawrenceville incident, I was interviewed on MSNBC to report on what I had witnessed.
Prior to going on the air, I wrote this in an email to 9500 Liberty & Story of America co-director Annabel Park and Police Chief Charlie Deane (ret.) of Prince William County, VA:
I filmed the entire town hall event last night. I met the Sheriff and gave him two copies of the film. I also gave a copy of the film to the Mayor-elect and a county supervisor. The story in Lawrenceville is a lot more complex than "look how racist people can be" and also more complex than "country folk just hate the federal government" although I saw a lot of that too.
It seems that the administrator of the now-defunct college down there signed an agreement with the federal government to house these unaccompanied minors on the campus, without informing the local elected officials or the People. They have a right to be upset about the lack of transparency. I only counted 2 people who stood up to defend the idea of helping these young people in 3 and 1/2 hours (but I did step out for a while with 1 camera rolling).
There are programs like this all over the country with no incidents of immigrant minors escaping and going on crime sprees. Other concerns included the notion that they might not actually be minors but instead could be 26-year-old gang members. Also, the volunteer fire chief said that the college's buildings were not up to fire standards, and that people from South and Central America are likely to carry diseases, and he was concerned that his fire fighters could either die fighting a fire in a building that is not up to code, or catch and spread diseases in the process (!?).
Many things were said that made me cringe. Put them in the closed-down jail instead of the closed-down college campus for instance. And in general comments were expressed with a show-boating style of hatred that was cheered on by hundreds in the audience. I think under these circumstances, people could be found to come out and behave like this in most parts of the country.
I told the Sheriff and the County Supervisor that the danger here was that someone or some organization would swoop in with a policy or a campaign that would exploit the fears and the emotions that this controversy has stirred up.
UPDATE: A month later it became apparent that the "someone or some organization" that would exploit fear and emotion for political gain was the US House of Representatives. With a midterm election only a few months away, I should have predicted it.
Please support Story of America with a tax deductible donation.