This week at the University of Texas in Austin, members of the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) planned to walk around campus with “Illegal Immigrant” labels on their backs.
These so-called “illegals” would be fair game for their classmates to “arrest.” All their fellow students would have to do is approach them, flash their student IDs, say the words “border patrol,” and take them to a designated location on campus. For this, the self-proclaimed deputies would receive $25 gift certificates
Why? According to Lorenzo Garcia, chairman of YCT's UT chapter, the group wanted to "spark a discussion" on immigration. Apparently, the usual public debate just does not attract enough participants.
What’s more, as he told the Houston Chronicle “We don’t espouse to the belief that politics is immune to offending someone.”
The game was canceled after an outpouring of criticism. But as offensive as this "conversation starter" is to most of us, one can’t help but see it as a direct result of what these students have learned from society.
Why not be offensive? That’s exactly what draws media attention and drives news cycles. Why not dehumanize immigrants? That’s exactly what we’ve done as a country.
Until this year, the last time Congress considered any sensible immigration reform was in 2007. Many of today’s college students were just pre-teens then. For the last 2,362 days of their lives, they’ve heard that undocumented immigrants can be ignored, that they’re criminals, comparable to rodents, and have no place in our society.
For the last 2,362 days, more and more police officers in their neighborhoods have been empowered to do just what their "game" empowers their colleagues to do, flash a badge and take a person’s freedom. For the last 2,362 days, they’ve seen the governors of states like Arizona and Alabama attempt to make the lives of undocumented immigrants so miserable that they're encouraged to leave the state.
For the last 2,362 days, they’ve lived in a society which has grown increasingly hostile towards Hispanics. In 2011, 56.8 percent of ethnically-based hate crimes were anti-Hispanic, according to the FBI. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented an 813 percent rise of so-called "patriot groups," including armed militias, between 2008 and 2012.
How can these young college students know any better than what we’ve taught them? In the midst of all our outrage over the offensive nature of their "game," is there room for us to look at ourselves as a society and admit that we’re to blame?
Gabriela Domenzain is a former journalist and Democratic strategist who has over a decade of experience in Hispanic civil-rights advocacy. She served as a national spokesperson on Hispanic issues for President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and she is now a principal at the Raben Group.