Hundreds of students at the University of Texas at Austin stood in solidarity with undocumented students and immigrants on Wednesday, November 20, in reaction to a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game planned by a conservative student group.
On Monday the Young Conservatives of Texas, a registered UT organization, publicized an event called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant.” At the event, participants would act as border patrol agents by “catching” students wearing t-shirts with the label “Illegal Immigrant” and in exchange would receive a $25 gift card. Lorenzo Garcia, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas, wrote on the event’s Facebook page that the game was meant to “spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.”
However, the controversial event sparked outrage amongst the university community and raised questions about xenophobia and racism on campus. Business junior Rubi Espiricueta, one of UT’s 400 undocumented students, said the event trivialized the hardships undocumented immigrants face.
“They’re making fun of our lives,” said Espiricueta. “There’s people who have been deported, people who have risked and lost their lives for better opportunities. It affects my family and my community.”
Departments at the university also attacked the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event. The Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Library Department, released a statement on their website, which said:
“We view these plans as a direct attack on Latino / Latin American students… This “mock sting” reinforces ethnic stereotypes, cultural intolerance and racial profiling, which should have no place on the grounds of our great University. We encourage all appropriate actions, both legal and civic, to counter these disgraceful plans.”
In response to the “deplorable game”, the University Leadership Initiative, a student organization advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, scheduled a counter-action. Organizers encouraged supporters to stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants and students by wearing white shirts with the word “undocumented”.
After students, faculty, and community members voiced their outrage through social media, news of the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game spread nationwide. Students from various campuses posted pictures in solidarity with UT’s undocumented students. The media furor caught the attention of public figures such as immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas and Hollywood actress America Ferrera. Ferrera, known for her movie “Real Women Have Curves” and the television program “Ugly Betty”, took on the cause by tweeting:
“I hope @UTAustin has the good sense to shut this down.”
Two days before the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event, members of the University Leadership Initiative criticized the university’s refusal to cancel the event. Though the university did not take action against the Young Conservatives, President Bill Powers said in a statement that the game was “completely out of line with the values we espouse at the University of Texas at Austin.” On Tuesday, the conservative group cancelled their event.
With this victory, supporters of undocumented students and special speaker America Ferrera gathered at the university for the counter-action. Organizers encouraged supporters to ask House Representatives John Carter and Roger Williams to vote for the immigration reform bill, HR 15. The proposed bill would enact much-needed reforms to the immigration system such as implementing the DREAM act and providing undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. However, immigration activists have criticized other components of the bill such as the militarization of the border. Before the government implements any of the immigration reform laws, the government would add 20,000 patrol agents to the border and 700 miles of fence. This raises questions about the effect these additional forces will have on the border region.
Though the protest was planned to counter the racist actions of YCT, it sparked discussion on immigration reform and revealed the amount of support that undocumented students have at the University of Texas and throughout the nation.
-Itzel Alejandra & Christina Noriega