Heat, No Light

Young Conservatives make a fuss with immigration protest

It's been a week since a conservative student group at the University of North Texas staged its most radical event yet, and still it's unknown who the biggest dupe was: the organizers, the people upset with them or the media that covered it all.

They called it "Capture the Illegal Immigrant" and decided to make a game of it. Spread throughout campus would be members of the Young Conservatives of Texas wearing bright orange T-shirts that read "Illegal Immigrant" in big black text. YCT officers, in blue T-shirts and stationed at their booth near the Student Union, would call to passing students--with a bullhorn if necessary--telling them they could "help secure the economy" by finding their orange-shirted compatriots. Once captured, the "immigrant" would inform the capturer of President Bush's flawed work program, the one that could allow illegal immigrants to gain a documented "temporary worker status" in the United States. But because we live in a post-September 11 world, the orange-shirted men and women would mention, too, how our porous borders enable terrorists to carry out their plots. Oh, and in exchange for one's efforts, wouldn't it be cool, they thought, if a capturer received a 100 Grand candy bar, which represented the economic drain illegal immigrants bring upon our country?

YCT's done controversial stuff before. The chapter at Southern Methodist University staged an "affirmative action bake sale" last year in which black students could buy a cookie at one-fourth the regular price. At UNT, the group last fall held a Coming Out Conservative event on the same day gays and lesbians across the nation staged their National Coming Out Day. And last Wednesday, the day of "Capture the Illegal Immigrant," the North Texas Daily, the campus newspaper, splashed across its front page a story about YCT releasing a list of UNT professors it thought taught with liberal agendas.

"I joined because these guys do stuff," says Christopher Richey, a sophomore in political science and member of YCT. Richey's all broad shoulders and towering height--an imposing figure, surely, but one who loses his edge when he sits, as he does now, a little past noon, one hour into the event, and smacks his lips together, further infuriating the cold sore spreading across his mustache line.

It's been a quiet morning for Richey and the rest. Yes, there was the woman in the pink top who stopped talking on her cell phone to look at the banner behind the booth--"Capture the Illegal Immigrant," it reads--and scream, "Oh. My. God. What idiots. Ohmygod, that's so offensive." To which Chris Brown, YCT chapter president, a cowboy hat on his head and Bible in his back pocket, yelled back, "You know what's offensive? People coming into my country illegally."

But aside from that, all is quiet till the media appear. First there's Fox 4, with a satellite antenna atop its van and a woman holding a microphone, pacing the sidewalk. Then the guy from the Denton Record-Chronicle starts asking around. Then Michele Connole, the publicity director for YCT, gets a call from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and semi-announces its intended arrival to all within earshot. Next, the Spanish daily Al Dia shows. By the time Telemundo parks its van and unloads the camera, suddenly there's reason to be angry: Hey, we might be on TV!

Connole, Richey, Brown and the two others manning the booth are faced with roughly 30 students, mostly Hispanic, who don't care to hear about YCT's opposition to illegal immigrants from all countries. That banner behind you, yo--that's messed up; that's offensive to Hispanics everywhere.

"They might as well be wearing white hoods," says Ruben Oviedo, a senior in literature and induction officer of Lambda Theta Phi, a Latin fraternity that had roughly 10 members present for most of the protest.

Of course, this is all intended to be controversial. Chris Brown, around 1:30, looks on at the scene below him--no one has left and everyone's face is red and cameras record it all--and a slow smile creeps across his face.

If they were to do this event without the banner, without the orange T-shirts, with only immigration policies on paper, "This," he says, pointing to the crowd, "wouldn't happen."

Which brings us, in retrospect, to the ironies facing all parties involved. First there are the angered students, who in their anger--however justified--failed to see that the event was there only to incite the epithets they cast upon YCT. (Students argued with YCT well beyond 2 p.m., the time the group was to disassemble its booth.)

Then there's the media--including us--which couldn't resist attending an event that was so obviously staged for effect and reported on the controversy rather than the issues it espoused. (For the record, 9-11 hijackers were in violation of immigration law. And Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Board chairman, says illegal immigrants pay $538 million in taxes each year but use $238 million in services.)

But mostly, there's YCT. Why did they do this? Connole says to show the group's opposition to Bush's proposed policy, to show how it will hurt the economy and invite terrorists to our lax borders. But the immigrants in orange T-shirts couldn't adequately express why the group protested. Indeed, once captured--the capturing itself a joke: The orange shirts were always in plain sight of the booth--Kelsey Stokes, a member of YCT, simply recited the U.S. code on illegal immigration and said, "So don't be like me."

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