The Corner

Marion Barry, Know-Nothing

America’s most famous coke-snorting, ex-con former mayor has been on a tear lately. A few weeks ago, after winning the Democratic primary for his city-council seat (thus assuring his re-election), he said, “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

Then Monday he made a less vulgar observation:

“[I]f you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” said Barry (D-Ward 8). “And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, and so that we don’t have to go scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”

There’s no question that mass immigration harms the interests of black Americans. Frederick Douglass, a better man in every way than the loathsome Barry, wrote in 1853 that “every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place.” T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami (and a CIS board member), has testified before Congress to the effect that:

Solutions to the challenges facing black Americans have to come from both private efforts and government initiative — but regardless of the specific approach, flooding the job market and overwhelming the public schools and other government services undermines all our efforts. The interests of black Americans are clear: No amnesty, no guestworkers, enforce the immigration law.

But, apropos of Barry’s “dirty shops” comment, Fair also said this:

Of course, none of that means that individual immigrants — or particular immigrant groups — can be blamed for the difficulties facing black men. Being pro-Me should never make me anti-You. Nor can we use immigration as a crutch, blaming it for all our problems. The reality is that less-educated black men in America today have a variety of problems — high rates of crime and drug use, for example, and poor performance at work and school — that are caused by factors unrelated to level of immigration.

But if cutting immigration and enforcing the law wouldn’t be a cure-all, it sure would make my job easier.

In other words, we need a pro-immigrant policy of low immigration, one that is pro-Me but not anti-You.

The problem with Barry is that he’s opposed to the only policies that can address the very real problems that mass immigration creates for our black countrymen: strict enforcement of immigration laws and cuts in future legal admissions. (For instance, the WaPo noted in 1991 that “The administration of Mayor Marion Barry for years tried to distance itself from the INS to encourage illegal immigrants to use city services.”)

In a sense, then, you could say Barry is the heir to the Know-Nothings of yore, who called for restrictions on the rights of immigrants but not limits on future immigration. Such an inversion of the necessary way forward is simply a recipe for more mistrust, ill-will, and even violence, without doing anything to address the actual problem.


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