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A Brief History of Student Conservatives' 'Catch an Illegal Immigrant' Games (Update)

Update: Controversial Event Called Off

The Young Conservatives of Texas has canceled its “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event, originally scheduled for Wednesday. 

Citing the university’s condemnation of the event, UT chapter chair Lorenzo Garcia claims he canceled the event out of fears the university would retaliate against the group’s members, “and that the protest against the event could create a safety issue for our volunteers.”

You can read Garcia’s full remarks here.

Original Story (Nov. 19): The news that the University of Texas chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas is planning a campus "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" game for this week has taken the political blogosphere by storm.

In case you haven’t heard: The group’s UT chapter has stated on Facebook that it’s planning to hold the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant game” this Wednesday. (Here’s a screen grab of the invitation in case it’s taken down.)

The group writes:

There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label "illegal immigrant" on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these "illegal immigrants" and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card. 

The Young Conservatives of Texas know how to attract attention. The UT chapter recently held an “affirmative action bake sale” with discounted prices for women and minorities. The A&M chapter held an “Anti-Obama carnival” in 2008 where students could egg a likeness of then-candidate Obama. 

Despite the notoriety the group’s latest stunt is attracting, it isn’t anything new for the organization. A LexisNexis search reveals versions of "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" going back to almost a decade. Here’s a roundup:

  • 2005: In March, the Austin American-Statesman reported UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter was rumored to hold a similar roundup event. Students at the University of North Texas held their own version of the event in January that year:
“Young Conservatives officers at UT told the Austin American-Statesman that, though they had once considered staging an illegal immigration demonstration similar to the one at the University of North Texas, they ultimately decided it would be a bad idea. ‘We looked at the event (the University of North Texas chapter) had, and while we agree with their political position, perhaps their tactics would not be appropriate,’ said Lauren Conner, chairwoman of the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas.”

  • 2008: The ‘roundup’ meme spreads to Lubbock, Texas, where the Young Conservatives of Texas hold their own event. Morris News Service wrote at the time:
“The version of hide-and-seek in which one student wears the T-shirt and others try to catch him or her, usually for a prize, has been causing uproars on college campuses since at least 2006.” 

Today’s announcement is drawing predictable reaction.

Organizer Lorenzo Garcia, who worked on Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign earlier this year, is brushing off criticism from fellow students on the event’s Facebook page and the University. “If they have a problem with that -- us catching illegal immigrants period, and I find that more disturbing than some might find our event,” Garcia tells KUT. 

Abbott’s campaign issued a statement saying it has no affiliation with this “repugnant effort.”

A statement from UT Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent calls the event “inflammatory and demeaning” and says it contributes to an “environment of exclusion and disrespect among our students, faculty and staff by sending the message that certain students do not belong on our campus.”

Update: University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has issued the following remarks:

“The proposed YCT event is completely out of line with the values we espouse at The University of Texas at Austin. Our students, faculty and the entire university work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas. The Wednesday event does not reflect that approach or commitment.  As Americans, we should always visualize our Statue of Liberty and remember that our country was built on the strength of immigration. 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.”

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.