Barry says he won’t apologize to Filipino ambassador for comments about nurses

April 25, 2012

D.C. Council member Marion Barry has created a diplomatic row between the Philippines and the District government.

Barry’s remarks Monday that he wanted more District residents to become nurses so hospitals don’t have to rely on “immigrants” from the Philippines prompted that country’s ambassador to issue a statement Wednesday condemning him for “intolerant and narrow-minded comments.”

“Councilmember Barry’s penchant for blaming Asians, who only want to work for their American dream, fuels racism, discrimination, and violence,” said Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. “Such rhetoric does nothing but harm relations among community members, when the times call for developing relationships and finding solutions to common challenges.”

Cuisia is calling on Barry (D-Ward 8) to apologize, saying Filipino nurses have stepped in to fill a vital need at U.S. hospitals. Barry has said he will not apologize.

Barry declined to discuss the matter Wednesday and referred reporters to his previous statement. “UDC ought to be a premier nursing school in the country. The nursing shortage is so bad we have to bring in nurses from the Philippines. What’s negative about that? Nothing’s negative about that,”he said Tuesday.

Unlike the controversy sparked this month when he referred to Asian-owned businesses as “dirty,” Barry said his latest remarks have been taken out of context.

Barry made his comments as he grilled University of the District of Columbia officials at a council hearing on the future of their nursing program. Instead of hiring nurses from overseas, Barry said, he wanted UDC and other nursing schools to identify and train unemployed residents in the District for nursing careers.

“In fact, it’s so bad that if you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” Barry said during the hearing, which was videotaped by WTTG-TV (Channel 5). “And, no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses so that we don’t have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places having to hire people from somewhere else.”

Marissa Usman, president of the Washington area’s Philippine Nurses Association, said her members feel “unfairly maligned.”

“Filipino nurses have been recruited to serve not only in this country but all over the world because of our professionalism, competence and complete dedication to quality patient care,” she said.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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