Archive | May, 2010

Humanity is not Numerical

2 May

photocredit: Jorge Franganillo

The late Robert McNamara was a man whose numerical and analytical genius was almost unquestioned. He became the youngest assistant professor at the time of the Harvard Business School. He rose through the military ranks, and earned praise for his efficiency and effectiveness analysis of bombers used during WWII. After climbing the corporate ladder at Ford Motor Company, he was accredited  with implementing organizational and planning systems that helped bring the company back to life and back to black.

President John F. Kennedy recognized his mastery of numbers and systems, and made his Secretary of Defense. McNamara brought to the administration the same mindset he had used for decades: numbers tell you everything.

Unfortunately for McNamara, his new position required that he deal with people’s lives in a much more immediate fashion. It wasn’t about bombing tactics or assembly line statistics anymore, but lives and limbs. He would go on to analyze the Vietnam war by body count and square miles conquered. These cold calculations would torment him until the day of his death.

The recent passage of SB1070 in Arizona has made a similar move. It converts people into statistics: how many are there in the state? how much are they costing the government? what does a “typical” illegal look like based on statistical history? The law symbolizes the materialization, and, as history might judge it, the catalyst of a brash, misguided, and intolerant type of right-wing activism.

It also symbolizes another example of numerical humanity.

The law is inherently racial. It bases the idea of “suspicion” on appearance, in particular, racial background and type. The law is also a xenophobic fantasy that lacks resources, strategy, vision, and, in the end, will result in a weaker state, politically and economically.

Arizona itself is not to blame for this law. Neither are its people. Republican representatives and the Republican governor are to blame. They have begun an irresponsible crusade to tackle an issue as a numbers-based problem. It is black and white for them; grey is too timid and unquantifiable a shade.

In the aftermath of Gov. Brewer signing the bill into law, another news story broke that few papers have noticed so far. The Arizona Department of Education recently told school districts to remove “heavily-accented” or grammatically-deficient teachers from their schools. In essence, anyone who’s second language is English should be removed from the payroll. This after the state of Arizona spent nearly a decade in the 1990’s recruiting Spanish-speaking teachers, some directly from Latin America.

The effectiveness of this mandate is dubious.Whether being accent-free will help kids learn English better is not backed by research. But like the anti-immigration law, it leaves so much room for interpretation that it becomes dangerous. Their foundation are assumptions based on numbers.

Who fits the profile of possibly “looking illegal” or being “heavily-accented”? Look at the stats.

The anti-immigration wave is not exclusive to Arizona; other states have followed suit. A Republican representative from California recently advocated deporting US-born children of illegal immigrants. Another Republican vying for his party’s nomination in a congressional race in Iowa thinks all illegal immigrants should be microchipped. His explanation:

I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?

A Republican representative in Oklahoma plans to introduce a bill similar to Arizona’s this year.

The debate has now deteriorated into an outright campaign to remove any shred of compassion and reason from the issue of immigration reform. People are not people anymore, but problems or abstract ideas. If an illegal immigrant can have his humanity removed by a state mandate, what does this say about us, about them, and about our politics?

Immigration is not an abstract topic. Once humanity is overlooked or quantified, it becomes open to experimentation and inhumane propositions. Immigration begins and ends with human beings, families, and their livelihoods.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (Alpine, CA), the Republican who proposed children of illegal immigrants be deported, even if they were born in the United States, framed his initial case as a national security issue. And he is right. Being serious about our nation’s security must include securing the ports and entrances we share with the world. He then goes on to possibly summarize the crux of this anti-immigration wave: what makes someone American?

To Rep. Hunter, it’s quite simple:

It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen. It’s what’s in our souls.

Who can argue with that line of reasoning?

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