While Politicians Call for Restricting Freedom After NYC Attack, This Immigrant Has Been Fighting For Yours

Carla Gericke, of Free State Project fame, first immigrated to America thanks to the Diversity Visa Program.


Carla Gericke

Since Tuesday's attack in New York City, our politicians have mostly bickered about who was most responsible for failing to end the Diversity Visa Lottery program that allowed alleged rental truck killer Sayfullo Saipov into the country.

President Donald Trump blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.)—who had initially proposed diversity visas back in 1990—calling the Diversity Visa Lottery a "Schumer beauty." Schumer and others have scrambled, saying they tried to end the program years ago.

"It's obviously reactionary to just immediately say, 'OK, so we should end this program',"Carla Gericke says. The Diversity Lottery Program gives opportunities to hundreds of thousands of people like her to "come and contribute to the American economy."

Gericke is a former president of New Hampshire's Free State Project, a long-time libertarian activist (who has been interviewed by Reason more than a few times) and a Diversity Lottery winner. Her perspective on the lottery is shaped by her politics and her personal experience.

Gericke used the lottery to come to the United States from her native South Africa in 1996. She first applied when she was a 20-year old law student in Pretoria. "I remember I got home from school, and there was this giant envelope on my front mat," she tells Reason, "I opened it up and it was like, 'You have won the lottery'."

Nearly 10 million people enter this visa lottery every year. Of those, somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 are then given permission to apply for a visa like Gericke.

All applicants must go through a vetting process, which includes submitting required documentation (birth certificates, medical examinations, court records), followed by in-person interviews at a U.S. consulate, and a background check.

The process took Gericke two years, and one intense grilling by State Department staff at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg. In 1996, she and her husband emigrated to California.

"We were excited to be here," says Gericke, who found work as a lawyer for Silicon Valley tech firms. At the time, says Gericke, she was not much one for economics or politics, apart from what she describes as "small-time anti-Apartheid" activism in her youth.

But then, the Dot-com bubble burst and Gericke and her husband lost their jobs.

"Being naturally curious, I asked what happened? How was there this bubble, then this giant implosion," says Gericke. "That led me to Austrian economics, the Free State Project, and then Ron Paul, and life in New Hampshire."

Gericke is no nativist's boogeyman. She has worked tirelessly to expand the libertarian movement. While serving as Free State president, she helped the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival to grow. She was even the plaintiff in a landmark First Amendment case that affirmed the right to film police officers.

Terrible attack aside, statistics show that typical immigrants are much more Gericke than Saipov.

According to the academic literature, immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, are incarcerated at a lower rate, and actually help to increase the wages of Americans. Though most are not fire-breathing libertarians, their political views are mostly indistinguishable from those whose families have lived in the country for generations.

Indeed, if we are really concerned about protecting American freedoms, we might want to put fewer restrictions on immigrants and more on native-born politicians.

In the wake of Tuesday's attack, President Trump has advocated for eliminating the Diversity Visa Program and more "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R–S.C.) has been throwing a fit about Saipov not being immediately shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, far away from a lawyer or due process rights. And Schumer, for his part, has demanded more anti-terrorism funding.

"We all know this quote by now that 'they hate us for our freedoms', so the governments reaction is 'lets give people less freedom,'" Gericke says. "It's non-sensical."

Ultimately, this kind of predictable response diminishes the very things that made America attractive to her, and countless immigrants, in the first place.

"It's my adopted country, and I love it," she says. "Watching it devolve into this police state, it's depressing."

Check out Reason's interview with Gericke here: