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'Catch an immigrant' game fires up debate on campuses

By Melissa Domsic
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based. This contributor is Melissa Domsic, a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan (CNN) -- In a heated campus event leading up to midterm elections, about 100 students carried signs and chanted slogans at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to protest a game called "Catch an Illegal Immigrant."

The event was hosted earlier this month by members of the student group, Young Americans for Freedom.

The group decided to offer a $100 reward to find a person posing as an illegal immigrant.

After a summer of intense debate over immigration, students wanted to keep the issue burning on campus. The Young Americans for Freedom at both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University in East Lansing considered hosting the game after it was suggested by Morgan Wilkins, then a field representative for the College Republican National Committee.

"In order to grab a college student's attention, you're going to have to do something different, something that might make a couple people mad, but it's going to generate dialogue and it's going to get students who are generally apathetic to get involved in political issues, and it did that," Wilkins said.

The committee fired Wilkins after her idea sparked negative responses.

Officials at both universities spoke out against plans to stage the "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" game on their campuses. At MSU, the Young Americans for Freedom canceled plans for the event.

"It's an issue that deserves discussion, debate and reasoned analysis," MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said. "When you become demeaning and degrading and mocking, I think that gets in the way of understanding."

Kyle Bristow, president of Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State, said the negative press and criticism by school officials didn't affect their decision.

"We felt that we could go about things in a different way," he said.

Bristow, an international relations sophomore, said he wants to get students thinking about the issue.

"So many people, they care nothing more than who's dating who or where they're going to drink on a given night or where they're going to party," he said. "There's a lot more going on the world, even domestically, that should raise some concerns. Now is the time we can make a difference."

About 15 minutes into the game at the University of Michigan, a woman dressed as a Native American brought out a man dressed as Christopher Columbus and wearing a sign around his neck that read, "Illegal Immigrant?"

Barely audible over angry shouting, Andrew Boyd -- head of the Young Americans group -- said the event was meant to start dialogue, not to promote a specific stance on immigration.

Boyd said he opposes illegal immigration, but he was careful to recognize different views.

"Political life here on campus has been dry, boring, and stagnant," he said. "Someone had to stir things up and we decided to be that someone."

Pre-law sophomore Maricruz Lopez protested the game with about 100 other students.

"This game is just open and bold racist harassment against the minority and immigrant communities on campus, and it's just an attempt to make them feel isolated and degraded and inferior," she said.

Andrew Boyd, left, leads a game called "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" to start debate about immigration.



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