'Find the Illegal Immigrant' Game Sparks Massive Protests

Carrying signs and chanting slogans like "Racists out," hundreds of people protested a "Find the Illegal Immigrant" game sponsored by a Republican student group at New York University on Thursday.

In the politically charged version of hide-and-seek sponsored by NYU College Republicans, one volunteer was assigned to walk around the NYU area with a name tag that read "Illegal Immigrant." The first person to find the volunteer was supposed to win a gift certificate for an undisclosed amount. When word of the game began spreading across campus over the weekend, several other student groups organized a protest.

"The game is going to bring awareness" to the issue of immigration, said Sarah Chambers, President of the NYU College Republicans, at the protest. "This is a dialogue. ... This is an event the community is talking about. I guarantee you that if we had a debate" on illegal immigration, the media would not have been there, she said.

But instead of creating dialogue, most of the protestors who chanted, carried signs and handed out flyers were separated from the table set up by the Republican group by a police perimeter closely watched by campus security and NYU staffers.

Students At Odds

Dave Hancock, a 21-year-old NYU senior and a member of Students Creating Radical Change, one of the primary organizers of the protest, found the game's premise offensive and racist.

"This is a spontaneous coalition [of campus groups] that emerged [to fight] the offensive political event organized by Republicans," said Hancock, a 21-year-old NYU senior and a member of Students Creating Radical Change, one of the primary organizers of the protest.

Characterizing the game as a "dehumanizing exercise in immaturity," Hancock said the protesters purpose in being there was to "be pro-active and stand in solidarity with undocumented folks."

"The idea of the event in general is disgusting," said 18-year-old neuroscience major Jordan Maki, a freshman.

Maki also said ads for the event "racialized the immigrants" by depicting them solely as Hispanic. Republican group members continuously said they were never targeting one group.

This isn't the first time that a conservative college group sponsored an illegal immigrant game.

In 2006, similar events were proposed at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Penn State University. Amid protests, Michigan State cancelled its event and Penn State University backed off the game, instead handing out informational flyers about illegal immigration. The field representative for the College Republican National Committee who suggested the event in Michigan was ultimately fired.

"We do not sponsor them. They're individual chapters and do whatever they'd like to do," said Amanda Trice, Deputy Executive Director of the CRNC. "We don't necessarily condone it. ... At the national organization, we don't sponsor that or give them materials or anything like that."

Children of Immigrants

At NYU's diverse campus, which has students of nearly every ethnicity and nationality, even children of immigrants opposed one another on the issue.

"Our parents and grandparents had to wait in line" to immigrate, said 19-year-old freshman accounting major Wesley Chan, a member of the Republican group. "What we're saying is not offensive, it's the truth."

Chan's parents both immigrated legally to the United States from China.

"They told me the process was long and arduous," he said. "If our ancestors had to go through the long, arduous process, why shouldn't they have to?"

Chan, who attended a public high school, was also concerned about tax money being used up by people that he says aren't paying taxes.

Handing out a flyer titled "Dispelling the Myths about Immigrants," Jeannette Bravo, whose mother immigrated legally from the Dominican Republic, had an entirely different view.

"This [protest] is meant to promote equality, especially in a university ... in a city that's diverse in backgrounds, in cultures and sexuality," the 19-year-old sophomore and Latin American Studies major said. "[I'm] appalled they're allowing this to occur."

Bravo contends that the issues immigrants face are the same, whether they immigrate legally or illegally, and that the motives behind those moves should be considered.

"I know the struggles [my mother] has everyday as an immigrant," she said. "It's difficult for immigrants who are educated" to take jobs as sanitation workers or cab drivers because they "only came here to get their children in a better place."

"Because you're legal doesn't make you better," she said.

Despite all the protests, Chambers said she thought the event was successful.

"So far it's going pretty well," she told reporters. "Illegal immigration is an illegal act ... that causes many problems for our country. ... Calling this game racist is an easy way to avoid dialogue."

A listing for the event on the social networking site Facebook drew more than 100 sign-ups, but only ten students actually showed up to play the game.

"I was actually informed by a College Republican who was disgusted by the event," said Nora Toiv, an NYU senior and president of the NYU College Democrats, who attended the protest briefly before going to work. "Obviously they didn't heed the call of their fellow students and carried on with their event."

Toiv contended that a listing for the event on social networking site Facebook made fun of immigrants, particularly targeting Hispanics, although Republican club members have denied this.

"To make fun of people who risk their lives to come to this country for jobs is not right and hateful," Toiv said.

Toiv said the NYU College Democrats would still like to have a panel with the Republican group on immigration.