Latino activists pounced on a conservative Texas student group Monday for organizing a now-canceled game encouraging people to catch students labeled as “illegal immigrants” in exchange for $25 gift cards.
The Young Conservatives of Texas’ aborted plans to hold its “Catch an Illegal” game inspired a counter-protest and a storm of angry statements from political leaders who called attention to conservatives’ continuing problems with the tone it uses to discuss illegal immigration.
Librotraficante, a group organized to “smuggle” books to Tucson after the Arizona legislature banned a progressive Mexican American Studies curriculum there, said it would organize a complimentary event at the University of Texas in Austin on Wednesday called “You’re All Immigrants.” Participants would make their own “illegal immigrant” signs and “self-deport” to the YCT to collect the promised gift cards.
YCT canceled the event after University of Texas at Austin’s President Bill Powers scolded the student group in a statement asking them to “find more productive and respectful ways” to discuss politics. The statement noted that many U.T. students are undocumented and have the right to attend the university as in-state residents under Texas law.
The cancelation prompted Librotraficante to abandon the game, but it will still hold a demonstration on Wednesday on the U.T. campus to promote ethnic studies, gender studies and LGBT studies.
“This is a great example of how a life can be changed by taking a Mexican American Studies course or two,” Tony Diaz, co-founder of Librotraficante, said in a statement. “This also shows how sometimes some students should skip the games and hit the books.”
The proposed event drew sharp criticism from Latino politicians, some of whom viewed the hostile tone toward undocumented students as illustrative of a larger problem with the conservative movement.
“Texas Republicans are becoming more and more radical,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said in a statement, according to BuzzFeed. “This ‘game’ points to a growing anti-immigrant sentiment from within the Republican Party in Texas.”
The Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Communications Director Izzy Santa joined the criticis, tweeting:
Message to UT YCT: Tone matters. A provocative stunt doesn't advance a conversation when it's offensive.
— Izzy Santa (@izzymsanta) November 18, 2013
YCT Campus Chairman Lorenzo Garcia, himself Latino, said he’d been called an “Uncle Tom” and received emails and comments on social media “filled with obscenity,” according to the Texas Tribune. “The reactions of some who claim that YCT is creating a demeaning or degrading environment on campus have been truly disgraceful,” he said.