SAN DIEGO — In the immigration debate, you can always count on three regular occurrences.
First, conservatives will say or do something dumb that angers Latinos. Then, liberals will take advantage of the slight and underserve both immigrants and Latinos because they have nowhere to go. Finally, those who really care about immigration reform will get distracted by the noise and criticize the wrong people while the real culprits get away.
All three things were in play recently at the University of Texas at Austin, where a juvenile and tone-deaf student group named the Young Conservatives of Texas planned a campuswide event called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant.”
Judging from the public comments of its leaders, the group seems to consider itself in line with the Republican Party. But I have my doubts. Frankly, I think they’re secretly in league with the opposition because what they dreamed up plays right into the hands of Democrats.
All UT students were invited to participate. If they could “catch” one of five volunteers wearing name tags that read “illegal immigrant,” they would be rewarded with $25 gift cards. All they had to do was flash a student ID, holler “Border Patrol,” then escort the volunteer back to YCT leaders and collect the bounty.
Do you feel like some young people have too much time on their hands?
The group’s leaders claimed that the goal of the event was to spark a discussion about the sensitive subject of illegal immigration. But that’s just spin. It was mostly about getting attention. After all, young conservatives can be just as narcissistic as any other group of young Americans. It’s all part of this disturbing “look-at-me” culture we’ve built for them.
“If we held a forum or a public debate, no one would show up,” Lorenzo Garcia, the chairman of the UT chapter of YCT, told reporters. “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.”
If you find yourself combating charges of bigotry against Hispanics, it certainly doesn’t hurt that your chairman’s last name is “Garcia.” But it doesn’t shield you from the accusation either. Hispanics can be bigoted toward other Hispanics, especially if we’re talking about the tense relationship between immigrants and the native-born.
Garcia was right about one thing. The great immigrant hunt got people talking all right, even if – as with other aspects of the immigration debate – they were talking over each other.
Liberals pounced on the story, joking that conservatives had set out to remind Latinos why they should never vote for a Republican candidate again. They included the Latina actress, America Ferrera, a Hollywood liberal who describes herself as “a proud daughter of immigrants” and who has been an outspoken champion of immigrants’ rights.
Addressing a crowd of UT students, Ferrera condemned what she called a “disturbing and demeaning game based on bigotry and hate.” She even claimed the stunt employed “tactics of fear and intimidation.”
Intimidation? Really? The mock roundup was insulting and childish. But it wasn’t really intimidating.
The intimidation came from UT President Bill Powers and Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent, who warned organizers that the immigrant hunt would be a violation of the honor code and implied that punishment would follow.
It worked. The young conservatives caved in and canceled the event.
Good riddance. It was a bad idea to begin with. But what did we learn from all this? Not much.
Ferrera told students that she went to UT Austin on behalf of Voto Latino, an organization that encourages Latino political participation. The outfit is supposedly nonpartisan but skews to the left. The actress made the obligatory references to how supposedly it is Republicans who are holding up immigration reform. She also criticized what she called “senseless” deportations.
Ferrera forgot to mention who is carrying out all these deportations – nearly 2 million in the past five years. It’s not Republican lawmakers. It’s the person she and other Latino liberals in Hollywood helped put in office – Barack Obama.
The conservative students of Texas are amateurs. When it comes to catching illegal immigrants, the president is in a class by himself.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.