Students Walk Out On Immigration Debate

Students walk out on immigration debate

Students, faculty rally outside a campus event featuring Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project.

The Orange County Register
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LONG BEACH Students walked out of an immigration debate at California State University, Long Beach, on Tuesday to protest Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist and what they said was “hate mongering” aimed at dividing their campus.

Gilchrist, of Aliso Viejo, was invited by the Conservative Student Union to debate immigrant rights advocate Enrique Morones, founder of the San Diego-based Border Angels. The event galvanized student leaders and faculty to form a coalition in support of human rights and in opposition to the Minuteman Project, which they called a “racist” and “extremist” movement.

About 300 students and faculty gathered on the green outside the auditorium where the debate was held, carrying signs reading “Racists go home!” and wearing fliers taped to their shirts with the names of the countries their parents and grandparents came from.

When the debate began, the auditorium was packed with students. But the room quickly emptied when Morones challenged students to walk out in protest during his opening remarks, leaving Gilchrist who wore a bulletproof vest over his business suit on the stage alone.

“We cannot tolerate this kind of behavior. What they're doing is a hate movement,” Morones said, while objecting to the format of the debate, which had a friend of Gilchrist's as moderator.

Gilchrist gave his remarks and spent the next two hours sharing his views with the three dozen students who remained in the auditorium, peppering him with questions about his views. Gilchrist highlighted the importance of freedom of speech and assembly for the country and anyone who is here, regardless of their immigration status. He underscored the need for English as a common language and the intensity of the country's debate over immigration.

“It was disappointing. He should have stayed,” Gilchrist told reporters after the event. “It was like a boxing match and the boxer quits and takes half the crowd with him.”

Katherine Marroquin, 18, stayed to hear Gilchrist after skipping class to be there. “I wanted to hear what this guy was about. I wanted to hear straight from his mouth,” she said.

Outside, students and professors gave speeches from a podium set up on the green about human rights and respect for diversity on campus the message of the Campus Coalition Against Hate, which formed in the last two weeks in response to Gilchrist's visit.

“From what I saw it was more of a trap,” Hector Gomez, 21, said of the debate after walking out. “If there was a fair debate, I would have stayed.”

Participants said the protest was somewhat unusual for the sprawling college campus, where many students are commuters. But protests have occurred on other campuses, most notably Columbia University, where students rushed the stage last year to stop Gilchrist from speaking.

Faculty members said the coalition was formed to prevent a similar incident from occurring on campus and to promote human rights and a more constructive debate about immigration through a panel of academic experts planned for next week.

“We didn't come together around immigration,” said Norma Chinchilla, a professor of sociology and women's studies. “We came together around human rights and keeping our campus a place where hate does not take root.”

Jason Aula, 22, who started the Conservative Student Union this fall and invited Gilchrist to speak, said he thought Morones' walk-out was “cowardly” but was pleased with his group's first event.

“Just the fact the speech took place, it's great,” he said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7722 or