Posted on March 4, 2005

Texas Independence Day Event Loses Stage to Verbal Fireworks

Lomi Kriel, San Antonio Express-News, Mar. 3

AUSTIN — A Texas Independence Day celebration turned sour Wednesday when hundreds of University of Texas students turned up to protest a rumored “illegal immigrant hunt” by a conservative group on campus.

The stunt never happened.

According to minority groups, the event was posted on the Web site of Young Conservatives of Texas — it was not posted as of Tuesday — and would have featured members dressed in color-coded shirts, including brown for Hispanic students and yellow for Asians, with other YCT members chasing after them.

Members of the group’s UT chapter said they never planned the antic but had reserved the space on campus for their annual Independence Day festivities.

The group’s University of North Texas chapter drew the ire of minority groups and lawmakers when it sponsored such an event in January.

“We weren’t planning this — not on this day, not in this week, not in this year, not in this way,” said Lauren Conner, YCT chairwoman.

But Emily Goodrum, a member of the campus’ Latino Leadership Council, said she attended a YCT meeting two weeks ago when the idea was planned.

Goodrum spread the word, sparking an emergency meeting of minority groups and a massive e-mail campaign to get students to protest.

Conner said the idea was only “floated around” after the controversial North Texas event, which included members dressed in shirts emblazoned with “Illegal Immigrant” on the front and “Catch me if U can” on the back.

“Some people wanted to do it,” said Amy Larcade, another YCT member, adding that the group decided not to pursue it.

YCT went ahead with its Independence Day plans. But the event turned into a protest; about 150 students chanted and yelled, others confronted YCT members about their stance on immigration issues, and some grabbed and tossed the cake and cookies on the table.

Another 150 students stood quietly on the steps by the UT Tower, holding signs; one said “No human being is illegal.”

“It’s such an obnoxious idea,” said David Mandel-Anthony, a liberal arts senior. “We need to have a real dialogue in this country about illegal immigration, about who benefits from it and who loses and why it happens.”

Dean of Students Teresa Graham Brett attended the event and called it “significant” in terms of its impact on students. She said she’d seen the e-mails and didn’t agree with the “hunt” idea.

But if YCT had gone forward with the event, “that would have been their right to free speech,” she said.

UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof said it’s “not a positive thing for Texas” and that it “smacks of an insult for our Hispanic citizens.”

After the University of North Texas event, Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, publicly chastised Chancellor Lee Jackson for not condemning it.

The YTC’s Conner declined to comment further, but Chris Brown, chairman of the North Texas school chapter, said he doesn’t think an “illegal immigrant hunt” is racist or offensive, adding it’s meant to spark debate.