This week, news spread of an event planned by the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) at the University of Texas – Austin, aimed at increasing awareness about illegal immigration.

The problem? The “Catch an Illegal immigrant Game” called for students to apprehend others wearing ‘illegal immigrant’ labels (in exchange for free gift cards).  

Sigh. Where to begin?

Perhaps most curious of all is that the chairman of the YCT, Lorenzo Garcia, is Mexican-American and should therefore be a bit more sensitive to the impact words can have on the Latino community (or any minority group).

While one can understand the YCT event was trying to be provocative and sensationalist – all perfectly acceptable methods of drumming up attention for an issue or event – there is a line of what is acceptable and appropriate.

“To catch”? The very choice of verb already dehumanizes the object. Are they animals to be netted?

- A.J. Delgado

Those familiar with my writings know I am far from a ‘Gang of 8’ bill supporter. But even those of us on the ‘other side of the fence’ (no pun intended) of this issue can and should unite to condemn what crosses the line (another pun, I know).

Where to even begin? First, the language: “to catch”? The very choice of verb already dehumanizes the object. Are they animals to be netted? Second, imagine the event for a moment. Volunteers on a college campus – where students include the children of undocumented immigrants – wearing labels reading “illegal immigrant” and laughing as others ‘catch’ them.

The game seems more ‘to catch an idiot’ than it does ‘to catch an illegal.’

Then there is the futility of it all – what is the point of such an exercise? While attention-garnering, sure, how exactly did the YCT envision this would lead to any constructive dialogue, debate, or discussion – apart from a frat boy’s guffaw as he bellows: “Yo, I bagged one!” What would this accomplish other than creating a divisive environment that is not all conducive to information gathering or an exchange of ideas?

To his credit, following the uproar, Garcia decided to cancel the event but apparently not primarily because he realizes it was unproductive and in poor taste. While conceding the idea was “over the top in order to get attention for the subject,” he also cited the group’s concerns that the university may retaliate against them and that the planned protest could endanger the safety of the volunteers.

Garcia is no bigot — he is a passionate student-activist who made a human mistake in language and approach. The damage for conservatives, however, particularly to those skeptical of current immigration reform proposals, is done.

Messaging matters; tone trumps; and stains are (in the digital era) set in stone.

This event is now an embarrassment for conservatives that won’t soon be forgotten. Between Republican Todd Akin’s remarks on rape and stunts such as this, my party seems to suffer from a severe lack of knowing what to say and how.

Dear YCT: Next time you want to bring attention to the immigration issue, how about just handing out some flyers with facts? Effective, inoffensive, and no need for damage control afterward. This conservative, for one, would be most grateful.  

A. J. Delgado is a graduate of Harvard Law School who writes about conservative politics and pop culture. You may find her on Twitter at @missADelgado

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