‘La Migra’ – It’s Everyone’s Issue!

Sheri Leigh speaks with Benicia City Council Member Kari Birdseye for a City – and Parent – Perspective

Sheri Leigh
Sheri Leigh, Benicia resident and educator.

This is the perspective of Benicia City Council Member Kari Birdseye, a 23-year Benicia resident and parent of two Benicia public school alumni.  As an elected official and a full-time communications manager for a non-profit environmental organization, Kari is a busy woman.  I ran into her at a recent Benicia Arts Council event and was grateful that she was willing to give me her perspective on the La Migra Games.  We had a very informative phone conversation between her work-related engagements.  

Benicia City Council Member, 23-year Benicia resident, and parent of two speaks to Sheri Leigh about ‘La Migra.’ | Photo from Kari Birdseye’s 2022 Campaign.

Benicia City Council Member Kari Birdseye and the other members of the Benicia City Council stand together with the Benicia police and the Benicia Unified School District (BUSD) on the matter of the student-orchestrated, traditional annual chase game they call La Migra.  Recognizing the racist overtone that is self-evident in the title of the game, the potential physical and emotional harm to individuals, and the ongoing threat to public safety, they want the games stopped – permanently.  This year, City Council and staff publicly acknowledged that this is a community issue that affects everyone in Benicia and teamed up with other municipal stakeholders.  

Ms. Birdseye is proud of the efforts that took place between City Hall, the police, and the school district this last year.  All three agencies worked together to notify the public about the upcoming game, sending out emails and issuing warning notices on their websites, in local news publications, and on social media pages.  The school district actively reached out to BUSD parents to educate them about the dangers of the game, urging them not to allow their children to participate.  Student leaders also urged their classmates to stay away from the games and out of trouble. The police department put extra patrols on duty on the night that was selected for the game.  

Click to enlarge. On March 29, 2023, BUSD issued a warning to parents and families of students that the game was imminent, describing its rules and warning of the potential physical and emotional harm.

According to Council Member Birdseye, the coordinated agency efforts made some impact: student participation was down from the previous year.  Over the course of the evening, police ‘apprehended’ dozens of students, keeping them at the station until they were safely remanded to parent or guardian custody.  When parents and guardians arrived at the station, they were provided with information about the game and warned to be more cautious about and aware of their children’s activities.  

The La Migra “games” has been going on for decades. They were happening when Ms. Birdseye’s children were in high school, and they vividly recall the experience.  Her daughter, who graduated in 2017, was (and still is) a social-justice warrior.  She was offended by La Migra games as a high school freshman, immediately seeing the racial harm.  Ms. Birdseye’s daughter actively advocated to her friends and classmates NOT to participate, continuing her efforts throughout her high school years.  She is now pursuing her Master’s degree in Education at San Francisco State.  

Some Benicia High School students have taken action against the game, posting warnings to discourage peers from participating. | This image is a still from a 2023 NBC Bay Area report.

Ms. Birdseye believes that the underclassmen are highly influenced by their desire to fit in.  They might not yet understand the harm or the danger of the game.  It’s the seniors, she feels, who should know better.  They are deliberately choosing to be in the role of pursuer, emulating and perpetuating a painful history, in effect weaponizing that history against our community’s Latino citizens and immigrants, and against those who are most vulnerable in our society.   

The work that the municipal agencies have begun towards dismantling this damaging tradition is just the beginning.  Ms. Birdseye assured me that each of the agencies, City government, police and the school district, are committed to maintaining their efforts to curtail the La Migra games.

But this is not just an agency problem.  We are all affected by this issue.