When a branch of the Young Conservatives of Texas held “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” at the University of North Texas, it predictably upset many students of color. The game involved “catching” other members posing as illegal immigrants and winning candy-bar prizes for their efforts.
Students at the University of Texas, Austin wanted to make sure that the same thing would not happen on their campus, said Stephen Torres, student director of the university’s Multicultural Information Center. “We wanted to be preventative,” he said. “We didn’t want the YCTs to get away with this again.”
Torres and company were successful. Learning of the massive protest against an “Immigrant Hunt,” the Young Conservatives at UT Austin called off an event planned for March 2. About 350 Latino, Asian American, black American and white American students went ahead with the protest at UT Austin’s main mall. Holding up signs reading “Hate is not Activism” in multiple languages, the protesters included 30 Latino groups, one South Asian American sorority, and many individual students and community members.
The YCT organization in Denton stated at its fall “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” that the organization wished to publicize the problem of illegal immigration. Both the Denton and Austin organizations stated that their goal is not to offend.
“The YCTs weren’t planning to educate but rather to make a mockery of what immigrants face in this country,” Torres countered. “We kind of took away the surprise, their ability to have the event.” He added, “We hope they learned that bigotry and hatred won’t be tolerated without being confronted.”
In the weeks leading up to March 2, one member from the Latino Leadership Council, an umbrella organization, posed as a YCT member at UT Austin and learned that the group planned another “Immigrant Hunt” on Texas Independence Day. The Latino student, Emily Goodrum, was able to pose as a member of the YCTs because “she looks white,” according to Torres.
The Latino Leadership Council flew into action. Students distributed a mass e-mail describing how the YCTs planned on wearing brown and yellow T-shirts to represent Latino and Asian immigrants to be captured in a game.
After the YCT canceled its event, three YCT members celebrated Texas Independence Day on March 2 this year by sitting behind an informational table in front of a UT library. The YCTs had reserved a space in the UT West Mall, where hundreds of protesters stood.
The YCT organizes on various Texas campuses and often takes controversial actions. Last year, a UT worker of South Asian descent illegally altered the documents of Pakistani applicants in order to help them gain entrance to the university (without the applicants’ knowledge). While officials were looking for the worker, the YCT put up “Wanted” posters with a blurred picture of the worker around the campus.
Texas Independence Day represents the day on which Texas, as a new nation, gained independence from Mexico. The Mexicans living in Texas then either left or became citizens of the new pro-slavery Republic of Texas. The Independence Day celebration has often brought controversy to the UT Austin campus. One celebration several years ago saw a group of Latino students eating slices of the celebratory cake and then purposefully vomiting.
This year, President Bush’s attempt at reforming immigration laws to allow for guest workers partly inspired conservative students to take a stand ostensibly against illegal immigrants, even though the law would officially legalize the residency of the guest workers. Nevertheless, the recent policy debates were drowned out by students arguing broadly about the rights and struggles of illegal and legal immigrants.