University officials denounce Young Conservatives of Texas’ “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” day

Anthony Green

UPDATE: as of 8:26 a.m. on Tuesday, November 19, the event has been cancelled. 

The UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, or YCT, will host a controversial mock immigration “sting” on campus Wednesday, prompting responses from students and University officials.

Titled “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” YCT will offer students $25 gift cards if they are able to catch individuals walking around campus wearing “illegal immigrant” labels on their clothing.

Faculty Council voted unanimously Monday to endorse President William Powers Jr.’s statement that the YCT event is out of line with University values.

In a statement, Powers said he takes offense to the event, but the University is in no position to ban freedom of speech. 

“Our students, faculty and the entire University work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas,” Powers said. “This Wednesday event does not reflect that approach or commitment.”

The organization has not announced any plans to alter the Wednesday event.

“The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration and how it affects our everyday lives,” YCT chairman Lorenzo Garcia said in a statement on the organization’s Facebook page.  

Garcia is a former paid field representative for gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. 

“Our campaign has no affiliation with this repugnant effort,” Avdiel Huerta, Texans for Greg Abbott press secretary, said in a statement. 

Gregory Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said YCT’s plan to carry out “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” would represent a disregard for the UT honor code and a misuse of the University’s value of free speech. Vincent also called YCT’s tactics both inflammatory and demeaning.

“And once again, they will have resorted to exercising one of the University’s core values to the detriment of others,” Vincent said. “Such actions are counterproductive to true dialogue on our campus, and it is unrepresentative of the ideals toward which our community strives.”

Student Government President Horacio Villarreal said the event is disrespectful, and that undocumented students help the University continue to be competitive and grow.

Student Government recently passed AR 16: In Support of Undocumented Students and Undocumented Longhorns Week, which outlines its recognition of the importance of all undocumented UT students and of Undocumented Longhorns Week, which is held in October.

“It’s just really unfortunate to see a group of students that go to school with students of all backgrounds, beliefs, opinions, whatever it may be, do something as disrespectful as that,” Villarreal said.

Members of the University Leadership Initiative protested “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” in front of the Student Activity Center on Monday to plan for counter action and to develop a strategy for educating the UT community on surrounding issues.

Melanie Diamond, sociology freshman and member of the initiative, said Wednesday’s event represents woeful ignorance on the organization’s part.  

“I think it’s classless, childish and racist,” Diamond said. “If they are willing to have an honest discussion about [illegal immigration], that would be OK.”

Government junior Payton Mogford said YCT’s approach to sparking debate over immigration is novel and effective.

“It is not personally a tactic which I would utilize because a great majority of witnesses clearly cannot get past the surface of what the group is trying to attend to,” Mogford said. “I do not disagree with them on principle necessarily, but there are better means of conducting a rational conversation.”

Juan Belman, engineering junior and leadership initiative  member, said the Young Conservatives do not understand the lives of undocumented students.  

“This is very difficult for us as undocumented [students] to know that someone’s playing with our lives, to know that they take this as a game,” Belman said. “We want to bring awareness that we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

Belman said the event goes against the UT community working together. 

“We’re supposed to learn together; we’re supposed to work with each other, and they’re not trying to work with us,” Belman said. “They’re just showing hatred language toward students who are here to get an education and help out the community.”

The mock sting comes after another controversial event hosted by the YCT in which students were charged different prices for baked goods depending on their race to exemplify affirmative action.

“And once again, in trying to be provocative, the YCT is contributing 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,” Vincent said in a statement.

Vincent said undocumented Longhorns are entitled to attend state universities under the DREAM Act, signed in 2001. 

“[Undocumented students] are part of a growing diverse population on campus and in the state of Texas, a population that plays increasingly larger roles in our intellectual, economic, political and cultural communities,” Vincent said.

The YCT website describes the organization as a non-partisan, conservative youth organization.