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Lines in time tend to rhyme: How John Waller Jr’s experiences with immigration is eerily similar to today in Sanctuary Cities.

author Published by Andre Barnes

My WHY and appeal to HBCUs

February 13th, 2024, my family welcomed our 4th child, Noah. As I held him in my arms I began to think about what his life will be like in the future. I am determined to do whatever I can to ensure that he has a bright future. One of the things I can do is to pay attention to policies that can affect his future. Reading John Waller, Jr quote really made me think about how our past is mirroring the present and can become our future. We have to start changing our policies now. 

The urgency of now is why I am trying to go to as many HBCUs as possible. Students and community members are not aware of what black leaders, like John Waller, said in the past about immigration. The students are not even knowledgeable about what is happening presently with the border crisis and are unfamiliar with the terms used to discuss the issue. However, as we approach this 2024 election, students will have to make a choice about elected officials. 

How can they make informed decisions if they have no idea how mass immigration affects them and their communities? Rome wasn’t built in a day but everyday I am not giving a presentation to students or meeting with community members feels like a missed opportunity to me. 

John Waller Jr’s quote above, captures what was going on with Mass Immigration during his lifetime. History doesn’t always repeat itself but it rhymes. If John Waller’s descriptions of mass immigration were depicted like rhymes, his work would rival Dr. Seuss. The famed poet utilized Anapestic Tetrameter or straight rhyme. Essentially it was 4 parts with 12 syllables in each line. The four parts list below is what we will focus on today, because the 4 parts of Waller’s quote line up exactly with what is happening now in Chicago, New York, Colorado, and other places around the United States. 

Here are the four parts: Mass Immigration…
  1. It is no longer necessary;
  2. Burdens receiving community;
  3. They deprived Americans of employment; and
  4. Drives down American Wages
Who is John L. Waller Jr. 

He was born into slavery in Missouri in 1850. He eventually moved to Iowa and worked as a barber. He was permitted to use a local library and like Abraham Lincoln, he self-taught himself to pass the bar. He lived an extraordinary life as a lawyer, barber, journalist, businessman, consul to Madagascar, and military captain. He  lived in Madagascar for a period of time after his role as consul ended and had a close relationship with the Queen of Madagascar. After a letter from Waller to his wife was intercepted, France accused him of sharing information about their operation with the world and detained him in France for 10 months on charges of espionage.  Congressional resolutions and a former black abolitionist named John Mercer Langston, pressured President Cleveland to demand his return. Once released, he came back to the US and moved to Kansas. Once in Kansas he organized a volunteer company of Black Americans to fight in the Spanish and American War. After the war, he moved to New York where he eventually died in 1907.

What was he seeing that spurred him to make his quote?

Waller’s quote clearly illustrates what was happening with mass immigration during the 19th century. He was observing the same high numbers of Europeans coming into the country that Fredderick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and A. Philip Randolph mentioned. He not only discussed that they were coming but where they came, and how it affected native Americans economically. John Waller J said, 

“They no longer go to the soil for their daily bread but flock to already overcrowded cities and immediately proceed to deprive native Americans of employment by offering themselves at cheap prices”. 

We are seeing the same Tetrameter patterns in New York, Chicago, and other sanctuary cities around the US today. It is not a coincidence that immigrants are flocking to cities instead of rural areas. There are usually more job opportunities in cities, “new immigrants tend to settle in high-employment areas, crowding out internal migration”. Internal migration could mean the recently freed slaves from the rural south moving to the industrialized north or someone in the present day moving from Georgia to New York. 

The mirror into the past

Reading John Waller Jr. quote is an illustration of how we are mirroring the past. Previous administrations have been able to spread immigration out so wide that cities and your ordinary citizens were not feeling the weights of mass immigration on a regular basis. However, policy changes from our current administration have made increased immigration numbers impossible to ignore. 

Waller mentioned “already overcrowded cities” as places becoming problems due to mass immigration. We are seeing this in New York where mayor Adams has stated that mass immigration would destroy New York and it would cost 12 billion to accommodate all of the illegal aliens in the city. Celebrities like Stephen A. Smith and Cardi B have complained about the decrease in services for Americans, and the benefits handed to illegal aliens never seen by citizens and legal immigrants.

Americans are dealing with the economic strains that Waller mentioned about illegal aliens working for cheaper prices. As recently as last Spring, 90 percent of new unemployment claims came from Black Americans. In Chicago, the preference of businesses for cheap labor led to an immigration raid. 800 people had to be rehired quickly to keep the company afloat. Those 800 new jobs revitalized the community and paid wages that would attract American workers. Now the raids are over and businesses have a new wave of illegal workers to exploit in order to bypass Black workers.


Written word is one of the things that stands the test of time. A skilled writer can create images in the mind of a reader that preserves their lives like a time capsule. NumbersUSA highlighted one of those skilled writers during Black History Month, Mr. John Waller, Jr. He is more than just a Black Leader with insight about mass immigration but a timekeeper. His quote illustrates that the more things change the more they stay the same. At the root of what he experienced and what we are experiencing now are the policies. John Waller spoke about the nostalgia Americans have about immigration and identified that the time for an influx of new Americans had passed. He explains how these increased numbers hurt Americans as they try to climb the economic ladder. As we review his quote, we can look in the mirror at our policies and see that not much has changed. 

About the Author:

My name is Andre Barnes and I am the HBCU Engagement Director for NumbersUSA. I give a free presentation and bootcamp about immigration. Immigration is the top political issue for 2024 and your students will need to engage with this issue at some point. As I have traveled to HBCUs around the country, students are unaware of the issues surrounding immigration and even less knowledgeable about the basic terms.(Asylee, refugee, permissible etc) 

My bootcamp and presentations provide a non-threatening civil forum to engage with the issue. I provide interesting ways for students to engage with the history of immigration through tying in notable figures such as A. Phillip Randolph, Frederick Douglas, and Barbara Jordan. I also deal with some of the apathy they may have about immigration through incorporating notable celebrities such as Cardi B, 50 Cent, and Stephen A. Smith.

The purpose of these events are to engage, educate, and empower students to take an interest in mass immigration.  I would be glad to discuss the presentation and bootcamp materials, format, and timing via zoom, phone, or in person. Also, if you are not ready for me to come to campus, I do have materials I can share to empower you to engage your students about immigration.

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