After facing harsh criticism from administrators and students, a conservative student group at the University of Texas, Austin, canceled its plans on Tuesday to hold a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game" on campus, saying members feared retaliation from the university.
The campus chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, led by student Lorenzo Garcia, had planned to hold the game – in which students would receive $25 gift cards for catching others with signs that said "illegal immigrant" – on Wednesday to protest illegal immigration, but canceled the event after other campus groups said they were planning to hold counter-protests.
"I believed that our event would spark this discussion on campus," Garcia said in a statement. "I hope that the publicity surrounding the event will create debate among students."
Garcia said he was "shocked at the uproar," despite acknowledging that offering gift cards was "misguided." Still, he said the entire idea of the event was "intentionally over-the-top," and that students "should not be silenced when they attempt to make their voices heard about an issue that is so important to our futures."
While a Facebook event promoting the game initially gathered a few hundred responses, another event invitation for a counter-protest, hosted by the University Leadership Initiative, has gathered more than 4,300 participants.
Despite the fact that the YCT group canceled its event, the students hosting the counter-protest said in the event description they plan to continue with their protest.
Additionally, a Texas activist organization called The Librotraficantes said it had planned to hold a counter-protest to the event called "You're All Immigrants." The group said it would hand out "illegal immigrant" signs to all students to collect the gift cards.
Bill Powers, the university's president, weighed in, saying the planned event was "completely out of line" with the university's values.
"Our students, faculty and the entire university work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas," Powers said in a statement. "As Americans, we should always visualize our Statue of Liberty and remember that our country was built on the strength of immigration."
But it's not the first time the conservative student group has sparked outrage from the campus community. In September, the students hosted an anti-affirmative action bake sale, in which students were asked to pay different prices for baked goods depending on their ethnicity and gender.
Gregory Vincent, the university's vice president for diversity, said in a statement Monday that the illegal immigrant game was no different, and that the plans were "inflammatory and demeaning."
Vincent also pointed out that some students on the university's flagship campus are undocumented, but are entitled to attend state universities under the Texas Dream Act, which was signed into law in 2001. Under the law, students who were brought into the country illegally as young children are allowed to pay in-state tuition at public universities.
"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. "Such actions are counterproductive to true dialogue on our campus, and it is unrepresentative of the ideals toward which our community strives."