The UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas has canceled a mock immigration sting on campus scheduled for Wednesday. YCT campus chairman Lorenzo Garcia said in a statement that organizers feared UT officials would retaliate against them.
Garcia also cited safety concerns, but conceded that the event, where students were to be rewarded with $25 gift cards for "catching" undocumented immigrants, was “over the top.” He nonetheless took issue with the backlash he received on Monday and said he hoped the controversy would stir debate on the issue of immigration.
"I have been called an 'Uncle Tom.' I have received emails and comments via social media filled with obscenity," Garcia said in the statement. "The reactions of some who claim that YCT is creating a demeaning or degrading environment on campus have been truly disgraceful."
Garcia also took a swipe at the university, saying he thought it a place where "students could express their opinions — whether or not they were popular."
In a brief statement, university officials said they were pleased with the decision and said the school “honors the right of free speech for all students."
“We welcome the Young Conservatives of Texas' decision to cancel Wednesday's event and look forward to the group being part of a thoughtful campus discussion about immigration,” officials added.
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UT President Bill Powers, in an emailed statement, called on YCT to "find more productive and respectful ways" to participate in a discussion about immigration questions on campus.
"The proposed YCT even is completely out of line with the values we espouse at The University of Texas at Austin," he said.
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, UT's vice president for diversity and community engagement, said the YCT members would be "willfully ignoring the honor code and contributing to the degradation of our campus culture," if they carry out their plan for the "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" event.
"The university honor code entreats students to abide by the core values of the university, one of which is freedom, but two others of which are individual opportunity and responsibility," Vincent said a prepared statement.
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In an email, Attorney General Greg Abbott's gubernatorial campaigned distanced itself from the event, saying that it had no affiliation with the “repugnanat effort.”
"Illegal immigration and the failed policies of the Obama Administration are not a joking matter," the campaign wrote. "Conservatives should not stoop to the level of liberals, who shenanigans at the Texas Capitol this summer, including chants of 'hail Satan' during Senator Davis' filibuster to allow abortions after five months, did nothing sidetrack the Texas Legislature."
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said in an emailed statement that events like the YCT's game show that the Republican Party is "fostering disturbing division" in Texas.
"Not only have all 4 GOP candidates for Lieutenant Governor vowed to repeal the Texas DREAM Act, but Greg Abbott, the top GOP gubernatorial candidate, has stated that he would change the law, yet refuses to give specifics," Castro wrote. "These anti-immigrant 'games' are out of step with Texas’ values and have been for generations.”
The same conservative student group that held an affirmative action bake sale at the University of Texas at Austin this fall is hosting another controversial event — this time, a mock immigration sting.
On Wednesday, the campus chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas will offer students $25 gift cards if they can “catch” an undocumented immigrant — a group of volunteers wearing "illegal immigrant" labels.
Lorenzo Garcia, chairman of UT's YCT chapter, said Wednesday's event is not intended to instill anger or promote prejudice, but instead to educate college students about a serious issue.
It's intended to “spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration and how if affects our everyday lives,” he said in a statement.
But Garcia's own affiliations have raised eyebrows among Texas Democrats. He was formerly a paid field representative for GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch confirmed that Garcia used to hold that post but left the team six to eight weeks ago. Garcia said that despite social media profiles to the contrary, he's no longer working with Abbott.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa was quick to pounce on the connection, though, calling it an "incredible shame."
"Greg Abbott owes Texas DREAM Act scholars an apology, and he must come out and immediately denounce Wednesday's event," he said. "This style of hatred and fear is not the type of leadership Texas deserves."
Gregory Vincent, UT-Austin's vice president for diversity and community engagement, called YCT's plans "inflammatory and demeaning." While permitted under First Amendment rights, he said, the event runs counter to the university's honor code.
"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," he said in a statement. "Some UT-Austin students are undocumented, and under Dream Act legislation signed into law in 2001, these students are entitled to attend state universities. They 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."
YCT bills itself as a nonpartisan youth organization whose legislative priorities include eliminating a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates if they graduate from a Texas high school.
In September, the group hosted a bake sale to protest affirmative action in which students were charged different prices for baked goods depending on their race.
“No one really knew what was going on and many people didn’t really know that race was a factor for UT admissions and other institutions throughout the country,” Garcia said of the September bake sale. “As a result of that bake sale a lot of people learned about [affirmative action]."
He added that YCT hasn't determined how many gift cards will be awarded in the mock sting or how much money the group will spend on the event.
“The main point of it is to really look into the policy of illegal immigration … and that the laws on the books right now aren’t being enforced to the maximum capacity that we feel they could be,” he said.