Nov. 19--AUSTIN -- A conservative student group at the University of Texas ignited a blaze of controversy Monday -- a firestorm that spilled into the state's gubernatorial race -- by announcing plans to organize a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game" this week.
The UT Chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, which caused a stir in September by holding an affirmative action bake sale, said the group is planning to have up to five of its members spread out on campus Wednesday wearing name tags that say "illegal immigrant." Students who "catch" one and take him to the group's recruiting table will be rewarded with $25 Visa gift cards.
Organizers say the purpose of the game, while clearly provocative, is to drum up a campuswide conversation on the hot-button topic of illegal immigration.
"If we held a forum or a public debate, no one would show up," said Lorenzo Garcia, YCT chairman of the UT chapter. "But if we have an event like this, it gets people talking about it, and if it gets people talking about it then we've succeeded."
Announced Monday morning via Facebook, the plan drew almost instant condemnation from Democrats, pro-immigration groups, university officials, even Attorney General Greg Abbott -- whose gubernatorial campaign was sucked into the mire after it was revealed that Garcia is a former paid staffer for Abbott's campaign.
What followed was a barrage of emails, tweets and statements from top state Democratic officials and strategists painting Abbott and his campaign as co-conspirators in what they likened to an "immigration hunt."
"This is an incredible shame," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. "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."
Abbott, whose campaign has said the state's policy allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-station college tuition has a noble goal but needs to be reformed, quickly tried to distance himself from the controversy.
"Our campaign has no affiliation with this repugnant effort," an Abbott spokesman said.
University officials condemned the plan Monday, but steered clear of any mention of preventing the event from happening in one of the campus' designated free speech zones.
Pro-immigration groups asked the university to put and end to the event, and UT officials were scheduled to meet with Garcia.
In a statement, UT officials said the undocumented immigrant game contributes to "an environment of exclusion and disrespect" and participation could flout the school's honor code.
"Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration," UT President Bill Powers said in a statement. "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."
Top Hispanic lawmakers also decried the event.
"It may be fun and games to certain folks on a college campus, but the bigger message it sends is not a welcoming message to Hispanics or immigrants," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and a graduate of the University of Texas Law School. "At some point, the level of disrespect and the insensitivity behind all the rhetoric becomes apparent."
Chapters across Texas
Founded in 1980, YCT has seven chapters across the state, including member groups at Baylor, Texas Tech and the University of Houston. The group lobbies for "conservative values" and typically releases scorecards grading state lawmakers for key votes.
This election cycle, the group has endorsed several candidates running statewide, including Sen. Glenn Hegar's run for comptroller, Rep. Ken Paxton's bid for attorney general and former Rep. Sid Miller's campaign for agriculture commissioner.
UT's YCT chapter is no stranger to controversy. In September, the group held a bake sale in which brownies were priced based on the race and gender of the buyer, leading university officials to decry the event as "inflammatory and demeaning."
Garcia said events are purposely inflammatory. The "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game," however, was not his creation.
Similar events have taken place on college campuses around the country, including Texas.
In 2005, YCT's chapter at the University of North Texas held an identical event to protest a renewed call for a guest worker program by then-President George W. Bush. When the UT chapter tried duplicating those efforts with an event of its own, protesters drowned them out and caused the event to be canceled, Garcia said.
"We're not going to let anything like that stop us this time," he said.
Pro-immigration groups already plan to stage counterdemonstrations Wednesday.
"If the event is allowed to continue, we're not just going to stay quiet," said Ainee Athar, a UT graduate and former member of the University Leadership Initiative, a pro-immigration group made up of undocumented students.
(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: 'Illegal immigrant game' at UT condemned
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