A student group at the University of Texas dubbed its mock sting operation “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” saying the goal is to provoke discussion about an issue of national importance.
But so far, the event planned for Wednesday has provoked little more than a volley of criticism aimed at the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, which was repudiated by Democrats, Republicans and university officials alike.
Hours after the group announced its plan Monday, UT President Bill Powers declared the event “completely out of line with the values we espouse.”
A spokesman for GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, for whose campaign the chairman of the Young Conservatives worked until recently, also denounced the plan.
The Young Conservatives said several people would be walking around the campus with the label “illegal immigrant” on their clothing. Any UT student who catches someone wearing the label would receive a $25 gift card upon taking that person to the group’s table at the West Mall, a kind of free-speech zone.
“The purpose of this event is to spark a campuswide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” Lorenzo V. Garcia, chapter chairman, said in a statement.
Instead, the plan sparked criticism of the group’s tactics.
“Our students, faculty and the entire university work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas,” Powers said in a statement. “Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration. I ask YCT to be part of that discussion but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students.”
With the student group taking a beating on social media Monday, Garcia was unavailable for comment. It was unclear whether he is a current student at UT. A university spokeswoman said she had no information one way or the other, but the school’s website said a Lorenzo Valerio Garcia’s first semester was fall 2012 and his last semester was spring 2013.
In September, the Young Conservatives held a bake sale, charging different prices based on the buyer’s race, ethnicity and gender to underscore the group’s opposition to affirmative action.
As with the bake sale, the catch-an-immigrant game is “inflammatory and demeaning” and fails to recognize that undocumented students are entitled by law to attend state universities, said Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement.
“We value free speech and we don’t believe any student will face” reprimands, Vincent said. “I understand that there will be a counter-protest and we fully support our students for this. And we hope that this will help this group (the Young Conservatives) see how distasteful this event is and how much their group is the marginalized minority.”
One counterprotest took place on Monday, with a few dozen students affiliated with the University Leadership Initiative, a student group that advocates for undocumented students, gathering on a lawn next to the Student Activity Center. The organization planned to meet Tuesday evening to make additional plans.
The Young Conservatives’ plan for a mock immigrant sting also prompted responses from Democratic and Republican circles. Garcia, the chairman of the Young Conservatives’ UT chapter, was a paid field representative for Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign but left six to eight weeks ago, according to a campaign spokesman.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa nonetheless seized on the connection.
“Greg Abbott owes Texas Dream Act scholars an apology, and he must come out and immediately denounce Wednesday’s event. This style of hatred and fear is not the type of leadership Texas deserves,” Hinojosa said.
Texans for Greg Abbott press secretary Avdiel Huerta said of the mock immigration sting: “Our campaign has no affiliation with this repugnant effort. Illegal immigration and the failed policies of the Obama administration are not a joking matter.”
Additional material from staff writer Gissela SantaCruz.