Games people play

UC Davis Republicans turn Capture the Flag into a mockery of U.S. immigration policy

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

As of April 30, 2007, legislatures in all 50 states had introduced more that 1,100 bills and resolutions related to immigration, immigrants or refugees.

In California, Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, authored a bill to create an Office of Immigrant Affairs to assist the 2.7 million eligible undocumented immigrants through the naturalization process.

Rebecca Canales took a break from studying for law-school finals to attend the rallies celebrating national Immigration Day on May 1. As co-chairwoman of the La Raza Law Students Association, she saw it as her duty. As an immigrant, she felt personally compelled, knowing that a group of campus Republicans were planning to play a game of “Illegal Immigration Capture the Flag” on the UC Davis campus. She hoped it was nothing more than a rumor.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Canales said. “It was just so offensive.”

Following dozens of other colleges and universities across the nation, the campus Republicans organized the game to highlight flawed U.S. immigration policies, said Ryan Clumpner, chairman of California College Republicans.

“We wanted to make people start paying attention,” he said.

The group divided its 20 members into two teams, one “Immigration and Customs Enforcement” and the other “Illegal Immigrants.” The group posted signs detailing the rules of the game: 1) Team Illegal Immigrants must outnumber Team ICE, 2) Team ICE must play with their hands tied behind their backs, 3) Team ICE plays defense the whole game, 4) “Amnesty” will be granted to all tagged members of Team Illegal Immigrants every 10 minutes, 5) All other rules apply only to Team ICE.

When Canales saw the College Republicans standing in a corner of the quad preparing to play, she felt a flood of emotions—anger, frustration and sadness.

“I didn’t want to cry in public,” Canales said.

The players spread out. They placed a neon poster, the “flag,” in the quad, but onlookers kept trying to obstruct the flag from view. As the players attempted to begin, women dressed in traditional Mexican folklorico attire moved in and danced between the players, swirling their skirts, intentionally delaying the game. Other students got up in the faces of players and demanded they stop. The Republicans shut down the game after only one round. It had become logistically impossible to continue. Clumpner said he was “mobbed” and “pushed,” but opponents of the game said the Republican group got what it wanted—to cause a scene and rouse some emotions.

“The other side intentionally misrepresented how the event was framed,” Clumpner said. The satirical game’s rules paralleled U.S. immigration policies, he said, but opponents portrayed the event as anti-immigrant.

Cassandra Lopez, UC Davis law student and La Raza member, heard about the proposed game prior to May 1 and e-mailed the College Republicans, calling the game insensitive and offensive. In response, the internal vice chairman for the group wrote: “Of course illegal immigration is not a joke—it is a very serious threat to our national security … we choose to express our opinion of illegal immigration in a fun game of Capture the Flag.”

“This isn’t funny,” Lopez said. “It’s not a joke, and it’s not a game.”

There is a human cost to immigration, Lopez added. About 500 people a year die as they attempt to cross the border, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The game did nothing more than belittle the difficult situations undocumented immigrants face, she said.

It’s good to have dialogue and for campus groups to express their views, said Kevin Johnson, immigration expert and associate dean of the UC Davis School of Law. He would, however, have liked to see the College Republicans “use some judgment so they don’t unnecessarily hurt people’s feelings.” He also wished the group had not scheduled its game during La Raza Cultural Days, an annual week of cultural and educational activities on campus.

The group wanted to strike while the kettle was hot, Clumpner said, on Immigration Day, held to recognize the social and economic contributions of this population.

A national boycott also urged immigrants to flex their economic power by refraining from shopping, taking the day off work and staying away from school on May 1. Fear of immigration raids, frustration over stalled legislation and decreased interest led to a lower turnout than last year, when 1 million protesters took to the streets. The activities on the UC Davis campus, though, showed just how torn people remain on the immigration issue.

On the same day that the Republicans tried to play Capture the Flag, hundreds of protesters assembled on the quad in support of the campus food-service workers’ demands to become university employees. Anti-war and pro-immigrant marchers rallied for their causes, as well. Others convened for a town hall meeting organized by the Department of Homeland Security on the REAL ID Act, which imposed federal standards on state issued driver’s licenses, largely in response to the controversy over whether undocumented immigrants should be eligible for licenses.

“As a society, we have a love-hate relationship with immigrants,” Johnson said. “We love their labor. We love the fact that produce is cheaper. We love the fact that restaurant and hotel bills are cheaper because of them. But we, as a society, often complain about the high costs of immigrants.”

Clumpner said the College Republicans recognize that the problem is not the people; it’s the policy. But when a group attempts to turn a complex, heated issue into a game, it’s the people who end up getting lost, Canales said. She did not see the game as an act of free speech, a matter of political differences or an attempt to spark debate. For Canales, it was personal.

Canales left El Salvador during the height of the country’s civil war. She and her family found refuge in Southern California. Two years ago, she moved to Sacramento to attend Davis’ law school. She developed a passion for family law and participates in the school’s family-law clinic, working with non-English-speaking clients who need help navigating the legal system. She also helps immigrant women and children escape domestic abuse.

As for the fallout from the May 1 events, she would like to see all sides continue to voice their opinion, but in a way conducive to dialogue, not in the form of a game.

“I hope they reflect on the situation. I hope they recognize the impact it had on people, personally,” Canales said. “It was not cool.”