Alien Notions

Virginia Postrel beams light with laser-like precision on the real motivation behind California Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-immigration posturing, a desperate move to prop up the crumbling socialist welfare state with a mean-spirited attempt to scapegoat racial minorities ("Border War," Oct.). All this to salvage his deservedly bleak prospects for re-election.

Wilson, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Sen. Barbara Boxer scapegoat immigrants for economic and social problems—loss of jobs, abuses of the welfare system, the failure of government schools—for which their burdensome economic and social interventions are primarily responsible. It is this same desperation driving Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's proposal to extend the legalized looting of asset-forfeiture laws to anyone accused of hiring "illegal aliens" and San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan's callous proposal for fingerprinting welfare recipients.

Postrel is correct when she says, "The promise of America is not a welfare check; it is freedom." But if these power lusters' assaults on our personal and economic liberties succeed, we will soon see Americans risking their lives to flee to other countries in search of the liberty that will have been murdered in America.

Mark Valverde
San Francisco Libertarian Party
San Francisco, CA

I just finished reading Virginia Postrel's wonderful editorial, "Border War." I wish she could be our first woman president.

L. Stephen Wolfe
San Diego, CA

Since I live in the agricultural half of Washington state, I have to contend firsthand with the same problems that are rapidly breaking the back of California. My home has been broken into four times. I have had my car stripped. My outside tools (riding lawn mower, sweeper, etc.) have disappeared. And every one of the people who were caught in these cases was an illegal alien Hispanic!

And Virginia Postrel has the nerve to stand up for these misfits. If there is one job open in our fertile valley, 20 illegals show up to claim it. Those who do not find work do not go back where they came from. They steal for a living. Our jails are fearfully overloaded, and the courts are turning away cases every day. This is not the America I want to live in.

It is evident that Ms. Postrel has not met the typical illegal face to face. Their lifestyle before they sneaked into our country was "if it isn't fastened down it is mine." True citizens of this country, of any race, disagree with this. The most ardent enemy of the illegal aliens is the native-born Hispanic.

Bill Davison
Toppenish, WA

Regarding Pete Wilson's proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to clarify that children born here to illegal immigrants are not entitled to automatic U.S. citizenship, Virginia Postrel complains the governor is being "murky." Clearly language can be crafted denying citizenship to a child of two illegal immigrants.

This isn't an academic exercise. Two-thirds of the children born in Los Angeles County public hospitals are born to illegal immigrants. But because of federal mandates and court decisions, California pays for delivery, and the United States bestows citizenship on the baby.

That infant then joins the ranks of "citizen children" and becomes instantly eligible for a range of federally mandated benefits, including welfare. Since that 2-month-old obviously doesn't open a checking account or enter into an apartment lease, that AFDC check is delivered into the hands of the illegal-immigrant parent. AFDC expenses for these "citizen children" are now the fastest-growing part of the California AFDC caseload.

Postrel opines that the governor's proposal "repudiates the founding principles of the country" and would serve to "keep the welfare state working at full tilt." But the 14th Amendment was adopted following the Civil War and was designed to confer citizenship on former slaves and their children. It is court decisions based on the 14th Amendment that are expanding the welfare state today.

Postrel goes on to write that the governor is "attacking illegal immigrants" for using a variety of public services. Nonsense. He is merely recognizing that the spate of federally mandated programs available to illegal immigrants is enticing many of them into breaking U.S. immigration laws and joining California, at a rate of approximately 100,000 per year.

And as for Postrel's claim that the governor "loves ever-expanding social programs," I would like to place some facts on the record. California's general-fund budget is now $5 billion lower than when he took office. Over the last three years, he has cut $2.10 in spending for every $1.00 in new revenue—a record that puts Bill Clinton to shame.

Is it possible to be a libertarian and a federalist all at the same time? Surely yes, with a little effort. But Postrel doesn't even bother commenting on the gross injustice of state and local taxpayers' spending $3 billion a year for services to illegal aliens—only to find Congress playing possum when asked to cough up some reimbursement monies for the mandates it has meted out.

A final point: Are immigration laws "un-American," as Postrel suggests? That's debatable, but certainly all can agree that smearing one's opponents is un-American. I can find no other word except smear to describe Postrel's unfortunate comment that millions more might have perished in the Holocaust had Gov. Wilson been in control of U.S. immigration laws in the early 20th century. What an ugly thing to think, let alone send off to the typesetter.

Joseph D. Rodota Jr.
Governor's Office
Sacramento, CA

Ms. Postrel replies: Mr. Davison's concerns about crime are understandable, given his experiences. And they raise two usually overlooked points about immigration. The first is that strict controls, even when laxly enforced, skew the distribution of immigrants. Among those who enter illegally, one large group are those who are the most desirable—the most future-oriented, the most enterprising, the most courageous, the hardest working. Illegality acts to screen out people whose passive personalities might predispose them toward welfare dependency. On the other hand, the illegality of the border-crossing process also breeds a certain disregard for U.S. law and encourages those who are most skilled in avoiding law enforcement—in other words, criminals. More vigorous enforcement would probably give us more of the latter group of illegal immigrants, fewer of the former.

Second, Mr. Davison's letter, and Mr. Rodota's statistics, point up an unremarked fact of the debate on immigration: Immigrants show up only when they come in contact with the government; tax-paying counts, as does county hospital use, but private wealth creation doesn't. So, for instance, we hear that a third of those arrested in the L.A. riots were illegal immigrants. We do not hear what I observed in the cleanup—that the vast majority of the men, women, and children who came out to sweep and shovel were Latinos, few of whom seemed to have lived here long. No one asked for their papers, but I doubt if they were all legal.

Without recapitulating my entire editorial, it's hard to respond to Mr. Rodota's letter. But let's start with Pete Wilson's record. It is true that California's continuing fiscal crisis has forced the governor to rethink his ambitious program to expand "preventive government" social-service programs. But let's not forget that his first budget–the one in which he raised state taxes by $7.3 billion—included $175 million for such expanded programs.

And even his new-found frugality disappears when he talks about why he wants to do away with state spending on illegal immigrants and their citizen children. He complains that state cannot "extend [the] reach and effectiveness" of "important preventive children's programs (in health, safety, mental health counseling, pre-school)," that "state tax dollars are cut from our needy elderly, blind and disabled programs," that "state tax dollars that could provide increased per pupil spending and reduced class size are required by federal law to be spent instead on illegal immigrants." Pete Wilson may be a federalist, but he's still a big spender.

The point of my editorial was to place the debate over freedom of movement in its American historical context. In that context, the only people for whom there was any doubt about the fundamental right to enter the country were those whose full humanity was debated: blacks and, in some cases, Asians. The 14th Amendment was an affirmation that freed slaves, and anyone else born on U.S. soil, possessed the basic human right to stay here as a citizen.

Finally, Mr. Rodota's rewriting of my mention of the Holocaust is bizarre. I wrote, "The debate over immigration, legal and illegal, isn't really about…whether someone's grandfather would have escaped the Holocaust if Pete Wilson had been running immigration policy in the early part of the century." In the English language, the word isn't means is not. As a politician who panders to voters' fears, Pete Wilson (without benefit of hindsight) probably wouldn't have been any better than the politicians who shut off immigration in the '20s, but I see no reason to think he would have been any worse.

The BATF's Mission

I am grateful to see in my first issue of a new subscription Alan Bock's article on the Weaver case ("Ambush at Ruby Ridge," Oct.). The murder of peaceful Americans by federal thugs is not considered newsworthy by the mainstream media. I depend on publications like REASON to stay informed.

Mr. Bock is incorrect in stating that the BATF is "an agency in search of a mission." The BATF's mission is clear: to turn the American people into disarmed European cattle. The BATF is doing exactly what it is paid to do by Congress: persecuting the politically incorrect.

BATF personnel are the tax-funded Brownshirts of the gun-control movement. The people who join the BATF or any paramilitary "law enforcement" agency are indistinguishable from those who joined the S.A. or Cheka. These "agents" are either ideologically committed collectivists or mindless thugs. But they all share a contempt for individual rights, the Constitution, and common decency. The sniper who shot Vicki Weaver should be tried for murder, as should his masters in Washington. The fact that there is no real investigation of the Weaver case, the Waco massacre, or the unspoken policy of harassment of firearms dealers indicates that neither Congress nor the president has any problem with the actions of the BATF.

Grant Jones
Captain Cook, HI

Alan Bock's "Ambush at Ruby Ridge" was an interesting and disturbing article. Unfortunately, Mr. Bock's credibility is weakened when he talks of U.S. Marshals carrying "silenced 9-mm M-16 machine guns with laser scopes." While this certainly sounds menacing, there is no such weapon. The M-16 rifle (a selector switch allows it to be fired as either a semi-automatic or an automatic) fires a 5.56-mm round.

Christopher M. Schnaubelt
San Luis Obispo, CA

Hawks and Doves

Daniel D. Polsby's article on the effects of gun control ("Equal Protection," Oct.) is one of the most thought-provoking and accurate pieces on the subject this life-long gun owner has ever read. Here in New Jersey we have arguably the strictest gun-control laws in the nation, yet virtually no one claims that these laws have made life any safer.

The recent violence against foreign tourists in Florida underscores Mr. Polsby's main point. Florida residents enjoy permissive concealed-carry laws; tourists, on the other hand, are almost always unarmed. The bad guys naturally avoid high-risk encounters with Florida residents (who might shoot back) in favor of preying on unarmed tourists.

I predict that very shortly some enterprising Florida entrepreneur will start providing an armed escort service to usher foreign tourists from the danger zone around airports. This will bring the predictable cries of "vigilantism" from the media, but it will restore the "equilibrium of hawks" that Mr. Polsby (correctly) assumes will solve the problem.

George Worthington
Cranford, NJ

A common practice of citizen gun toting would change the face of law enforcement. Undercover police work, for instance, would become even more dangerous, because no officer would know if a drawn gun was friendly or not. There would be a number of "unfortunate incidents." Likewise, I wonder what the consequences of a confrontation between an honest citizen and an armed miscreant would look like to a police officer making his report or a judge determining justifiable homicide.

Though I agree with Polsby that the eventual effect of an armed citizenry would be a lessening of crime, initially killings would be rampant, as criminals challenged citizens for the right to the streets. In a fully armed society, the rush among criminals (who may organize in self-preservation) will be to gather the greater number of weapons and ammunition as quickly as possible. At first flush this could turn decidedly nasty.

Polsby's example of the nonviolence of the '49ers is a good one, but we must also remember that another reason for the lack of gold-rush gunplay was citizen action (vigilantes). Hangtown, California, during the first years of the gold rush made short work of those who defied the peace, thus giving the town its name for a short time (before it became the more peaceable town of Placerville). Dodge City, Kansas, during the 1870s and 1880s is remembered as a generally lawless town (though the shootings were not so numerous as fiction would have us believe). But its greater period of gunplay was when citizens tried hanging up the six-shooters and turning law-enforcement duties over to marshals.

On the whole, however, Polsby has given me reason to believe that our crime-laden days are reversible. If nothing else, the saga of the recapturing of America under a Polsby scenario would make great TV fodder for some future, gentler generation.

Patrick M. Burke
River Ridge, CA

Mr. Polsby replies: Patrick Burke's fears of shootouts for control of the streets seem far-fetched. An armed citizenry makes public predation more dangerous and costly for criminals. On the margin, criminals should therefore change their behavior so as to avoid that cost. Stealth should become relatively more valuable to criminals than firepower. Overall crime rates probably would not be affected, alas, but the mix of crimes, and where they would be committed, probably would be.