It’s No Game – The Profound Danger of ‘La Migra’
By Sheri Leigh, May 12, 2023
I’ve lived in Benicia for ten years. Until recently, I was working a demanding job as a school counselor first in Antioch and then in Petaluma, and I had little time to focus on my own community. Benicia was my haven away from the pressure of work where I could stroll downtown on a weekend or a day off, enjoying the cute shops, a glass of wine by the water, and live music.
Last July, I took the big leap and retired from the public school system. Although I am still working part time, I’m based at home, and I can now pay more attention to issues within our local community and get to know our town leaders.
It was just this year that the annual ‘La Migra Game’ that Benicia’s high school students are orchestrating hit my radar.
The title ‘La Migra’ conjures up images of immigration raids […] targeting desperate people who don’t have any resources and are trying to get into this country so that they could have a better life for themselves and their families. It conjures up xenophobia and cruelty.
I heard a vague reference to the game in passing, when one acquaintance laughingly said, “If Benicia’s biggest problem is that a kid every now and then gets dropped off at Lake Herman as part of a game, then we don’t have a problem.” I didn’t completely understand what she was referring to until I read a statement of ALERT in my email from the Benicia Independent on March 30 of this year. The article was brief, but it cited the physical and emotional dangers of the game and how it taps police resources.
What is ‘La Migra?’
I started investigating and soon learned that the Game has been going on for decades. What I heard initially was that the junior and senior high school students of the community were tracking down younger students, primarily students of Color, kidnapping them, and releasing them in remote areas on the outskirts of town. As a counselor, as a mother, as a grandmother, and as a human being, I was sickened to learn that this was happening right under my nose.
The title ‘La Migra’ conjures up images of immigration raids on businesses harboring undocumented workers or round-ups near the Mexican border targeting desperate people who don’t have any resources and are trying to get into this country so that they could have a better life for themselves and their families. It conjures up xenophobia and cruelty.
I was starting to wonder if some of the Benicia high schoolers are engaging in their own miniature, gamified version of weeding out those who are different from themselves. If so, this is a problem – and a big one.
The pursuit and disposal of those who are different or vulnerable is hardly a new concept. As recently as 30 years ago, the police in Saskatoon, Canada were picking up individuals from the Cree tribe and dropping them off in the night in remote areas during the winter months, when the temperatures sometimes dropped as low as 10-15 degrees below zero F, leaving them to find their way back or freeze to death. I was starting to wonder if some of the Benicia high schoolers are engaging in their own miniature, gamified version of weeding out those who are different from themselves. If so, this is a problem – and a big one.
I discussed the Game recently with Mario Giuliani, our Interim City Manager. Although he does not in any way condone the Game, he initially responded to my concerns with a reference to the voluntary nature of it.
I did more research, and yes, there are some students who willingly play the role of victim, probably for the excitement and challenge to reach safety before being captured by the ‘ruthless’ upperclassmen. But I still felt uneasy.
Here are the rules of the Game, as I understand them. Those who are playing the game meet at a predetermined area and time. The self-designated targets are given a 10-minute head start, emboldened with the goal of making it across town to a “safe area” before they are captured. The younger students are on foot, while the upperclassmen, posing as ICE officers, roam Benicia in vehicles, trying to track younger students down, in order to . . . what, exactly?
The pursuers are caught up in the excitement of the chase, and anyone young and vulnerable out on that night is just another potential target. Or victim.
The rules, the danger and the victims
On the surface, the rules of the Game seem moderately innocent, with consenting targets who have a good chance at making it through the game safely. But when a target is captured, the punishment can be severe and dangerous. For just one example, I learned that one captured student was dropped in the City of San Francisco with no money and no cell phone. Others have been shot with ice pellets. In some cases, the Game has taken on a racialized aspect, with offensive slurs and abuse flying alongside the ice bullets.
Another unfortunate consequence involves the victimization of young people who are not engaged in the game, and may not even be aware of it. The upperclassmen who are in the role of pursuer do not always know which students are participating and which are not, and sometimes they are not even concerned about the difference. The pursuers are caught up in the excitement of the chase, and anyone young and vulnerable out on that night is just another potential target. Or victim.
The possible dangers of this game are endless. There’s a lack of attention to traffic and public safety on both sides. There are unwitting victims. There’s the trauma of being captured, assaulted, and/or whisked away to an unknown area alone, whether voluntarily engaged or not. There’s the natural cruelty that arises in many humans when they take on the role of predators (those of you who have read Lord of the Flies know what I mean). And so on.
I need to know more. And I would like for you to know more.
If you would like me to hear and share your perspective on the ‘La Migra Game,’ please contact me through the Benicia Independent.
Starting with this initial editorial, I will be writing and collecting a series of articles reflecting as many perspectives as I can gather and, although I am personally horrified by the Game, I will try to present each perspective as objectively and without judgment as I can.
To that end, I would like to speak with anyone with any experience with the Game, including law enforcement, anyone involved with the school district, parents, witnesses, and students who have willingly participated on either side, as well as anyone who was out in public on a Game night and affected.
We all have buy-in.
These are our children.
This is our community.
As a former school counselor, and an actively engaged mother and grandmother, equity in education and in society have always been a focus of mine. Anyone can become an agent of change towards the betterment of my community and humanity at large, and I consider myself such an agent.
I would ultimately like to see the La Migra Game disbanded forever or at least morphed into something that satisfies the need for healthy competition but is safer, more cooperative, and confidence-building in nature.
If you would like me to hear and share your perspective on the ‘La Migra Game,’ please contact me through the Benicia Independent. Remember that it is your story that is critical for others to hear, not your name, unless you would like to be identified. I promise to honor your story and perspective to the best of my ability, and to work toward a safer and more equitable Benicia.
Reach out to Sheri: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leave a voicemail for the BenIndy: (707) 385-9972
(This is not a live line. You will be sent straight to voicemail.)
LEARN MORE ABOUT ‘LA MIGRA’
- Alert – Dangerous ‘La Migra’ Game Friday | March 30, 2023
- Benicia Community Raises Concerns after Teens Attacked During ‘La Migra’ Game | NBC Bay Area, April 28, 2022
- These California Kids Got In Trouble for Playing La Migra, a Game Where ‘Border Agents’ Chase ‘Illegal Immigrants| Reason Magazine, April 18, 2018
- Controversial La Migra Deportation Game Divides Bay Area City | East Bay Times, April 25, 2017