One hundred and fifty posters expressing anti-undocumented immigrant sentiments caused a stir on campus this past finals week.
The posters showed a picture of Kate Steinle, a San Francisco woman who was killed in 2015 by Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican-born undocumented immigrant and felon previously deported five times. The posters were captioned “She had dreams too” in a reference to “DREAMers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors protected by the Obama administration’s DACA policy. Garcia Zarate, who was never under the protection of DACA, was acquitted of murder in November, with the jury ruling that Steinle was killed due to the accused’s accidental discharge of a firearm that he found on the ground. President Donald Trump tweeted the verdict was “disgraceful”.
The flyers were hung across campus on Dec. 7 by California College Republicans Regional Vice Chair and UC San Diego student Gregory Lu, who told The College Fix that he was acting on behalf of a new multi-campus organization called Right Wing West. The posters were taken down the next day by other UCSD students. Lu was subsequently contacted by the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, but told The Triton that he has not followed up with the inquiry.
UCSD College Democrats published a statement on their Facebook page condemning what they described as “racist propaganda” published by Lu.
“The gross distortion of tragedy, ignoring facts and reality, targets the undocumented community and criminalizes its members in an attempt to tear apart communities. It inflicts violence upon individuals whose safety, security, and well-being are already de-legitimized with state policy and hateful rhetoric,” the post stated.
The College Republicans at UCSD, who were not named in the Democrats’ statement, subsequently issued their own statement denouncing Garcia Zarate, denying responsibility for the posters, and stating that “these posters do not necessarily represent the views of the College Republicans at UCSD as [they] are diverse not only ethnically but ideologically.” The statement went on to urge victims of crime and those fearing for their own safety to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Steinle posters are the latest in a series of anti-immigrant endorsements by conservative members and groups on the UCSD campus in the last year. Previously, the College Republicans called on the Muslim Student Association to condemn acts of terrorism by ISIS. In March, the David Horowitz Freedom Center put up posters arguing against efforts to turn UCSD into a sanctuary campus for undocumented students. Additionally, the white nationalist organization Identity Evropa hung banners on Price Center urging an end to DACA.
The night before Triton Day 2016, several students wrote chalk messages such as “deport them all” and “Mexico will pay” around campus and in front of the Raza Resource Centro. Following that incident, Provost Ivan Evans wrote a Facebook post saying that “[w]hoever furtively inflicted this incident on campus does not deserve the attention they cannot receive through rational discourse and open debate.”
These acts form part of a larger conversation taking place across America regarding free speech on college campuses. At institutions such as UC Berkeley and San Diego State, inflammatory posters and conservative speakers have been met with passionate resistance from students and community members.
Following Garcia Zarate’s acquittal, the Berkeley College Republicans held a candlelight vigil in memory of Steinle. A member told the Daily Californian that “[c]ertain deaths should be politicized.” The vigil was met with a protest that sparked arguments and debate between both sides.
“I wanted to remember Kate Steinle and spread her story, while also providing the conservative viewpoint,” said Lu. “I succeeded in getting people’s attention to the matter, but it became overshadowed by the issue of free speech.”
Liam Barrett is Vice President of the College Democrats at UCSD and was one of the students who noticed Lu’s posters. He told The Triton that while the people putting up the posters have a right to free speech, they should expect to be called out.
“The posters weren’t really about honoring Kate Steinle or her death, they were about targeting the undocumented and the DACA community and trying to criminalize them as a whole for the actions of one man,” said Barrett. “They’re not really facing any sort of consequences that would abridge their freedom of speech…they want to be able to say whatever hateful garbage they want to and not be called out on it.”
Several commenters on a Reddit thread were particularly incensed by Lu’s reference to the DACA community, which they say has no connection to Garcia Zarate. Another commenter offered to donate $300 in support of Lu’s actions. Lu explained that he felt the slogan was the most fitting for the situation.
“I was hoping to raise awareness to the issue of illegal immigration, and I felt that I succeeded to some extent,” said Lu. “The slogan references DREAMers and DACA but the idea was hitting on the broader issue of immigration as a whole.”
Lu’s position on immigration contrasts with that of the University of California system, which in December 2016 affirmed its commitment to protect the 4,000 undocumented students that attend a UC school.
Rohan Grover is an Assistant News Editor at The Triton.