Buchanan Links L.A. Riot to Immigration Problems


Amid accusations that he is inciting racial tensions, Republican presidential hopeful Patrick J. Buchanan charged again Wednesday that illegal immigrants were responsible for much of the disorder that rocked Los Angeles earlier this month.

Citing U.S. Atty. Gen. William P. Barr’s estimate that one-third of the first 6,000 people arrested in the riots were illegal immigrants, Buchanan told reporters that “foreigners are coming into this country illegally and helping to burn down one of the greatest cities in America.”

Buchanan repeated the accusations in Orange County, one day after he made similar comments while touring the U.S.-Mexico border, when he called for the construction of new ditches and fences as well as a doubling of U.S. Border Patrol personnel.


“I can’t understand why this Administration fails to enforce the laws and close that border,” Buchanan told an audience of about 150 people, mostly senior citizens, at Leisure World in Seal Beach. “If I were President, I would have the (Army) Corps of Engineers build a double-barrier fence that would keep out 95% of the illegal traffic. I think it can be done.”

Buchanan continues his tour of Orange County today with a series of events that begin with a breakfast in Newport Beach followed by a visit to Taft Elementary School in Santa Ana and a speech to another Leisure World audience, this time in Laguna Hills.

At this point Buchanan’s campaign is little more than symbolic: President Bush already has more than enough delegates to guarantee a first-ballot victory at the GOP convention in August. But Buchanan said Wednesday that a strong showing in California would force his anti-immigration proposals onto the White House’s agenda.

“If I got a third of the vote in the Republican primary in California, Mr. Bush would be building that fence in July and August,” Buchanan told reporters after a brief tour of the Los Angeles County Central Jail.

For Buchanan, even such a modest showing would be a major improvement: On Tuesday he won just 14% of the vote in Nebraska and only 15% in West Virginia. Buchanan insisted that his comments about illegal immigrants were not meant to incite discrimination against Latinos. But some Latino leaders maintain that with Los Angeles still smoldering in the wake of the riots, Buchanan’s highly charged rhetoric amounts to putting out fires with gasoline.

“I think he’s scaring people,” said Richard Martinez, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. “He is appealing to literally a dark side of the soul, a fear of the other.”


Wednesday afternoon, when Buchanan addressed students at Whittier College, sophomore Lawrence Collins leveled similar accusations against the conservative columnist and asked him how he would defuse racial tensions. Buchanan responded with a brisk denunciation of affirmative action.

“How would I unite the American people? I would do away with this idiotic thing called group rights and get back to rights that inhere to individuals,” he said. “You’ve got to get back to judging people not by race and color but by consideration of excellence and ability.”

To some extent, Buchanan’s appearance at Whittier College was a sentimental journey: Richard M. Nixon, the school’s most famous alumnus, employed Buchanan in his White House. On the other hand, Nixon publicly called on Buchanan to quit the GOP race almost two months ago.

On other subjects, Buchanan said that he looks favorably on Gov. Pete Wilson’s state ballot initiative to eliminate further welfare payments for women who have additional children while on public relief.

Buchanan also praised most of the urban initiatives Bush has advanced in response to the Los Angeles riots, including a plan that would give government assistance to parents sending their children to private or parochial schools.

But Buchanan raised concerns about proposals to create urban enterprise zones that provide tax breaks and regulatory relief for companies locating in certain inner-city neighborhoods. “If cutting capital gains taxes and cutting regulations are a good idea and they encourage investment and stimulate the economy, why don’t we do it in the whole country and make it an enterprise zone for the world?” Buchanan said.

Times political writer Dave Lesher contributed to this report.