In the last two weeks, more than 140 companies visited the
College of Engineering for the annual career fair. More than half
of them (77 to be exact) only accepted resumes from U.S. citizens.
This, I believe, is a deplorable act of discrimination. To those
readers who are shocked by the use of such a strong term, I would
remind them of the definition of this word: It is the act of making
a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual
merit.

Merit. Not much observation is needed to see that the
international community at the University is far from being
academically inferior to the U.S. community. Also, many foreign
students are native English speakers, like most Indians, Nigerians
or Ghanaians. Thus, one can safely assert that the
“U.S-only” policy doesn’t match any technical or
linguistic measure of skills or merit.

However, this reality is only symptomatic of a much more
fundamental problem: Any nationality-based policy, regardless of
the statistical performance of some “communities” over
others, is a form of discrimination. The reason for this is simple:
Nationality is an attribute over which individuals have very little
control, if any — just like the color of their skin or their
ethnicity. Hence, a recruiter who refuses to look at your resume
(i.e. the listing of your merits) because of your nationality is
acting as discriminatively as if he rejected you based on your
physical characteristics.

So why have we come to accept these procedures as normal? And
who is really to blame? To start with the second question, I would
say that companies are only partially responsible. They have simply
chosen to avoid the administrative burden of hiring foreigners. It
may be less ethical, but it is cheaper.

The reason why such procedures are so rarely questioned is that
they are just a minuscule part of a global system in which we have
all been raised and that we have naturally come to accept as the
norm. No country has ever had a same-for-all policy. Everywhere in
the world, individuals are treated unequally, according to their
citizenship (among a host of other things). This is institutional
discrimination, except that the word “discrimination”
is very well hidden behind more politically correct terms such as
“aliens’ rights,” “work
authorization,” “single-entry visa,” etc.

The security of the nation is one of the most frequent motives
invoked to justify the unequal treatment of individuals. But these
protective measures are the cause of the very problems they have
been put in place to address. I always found it funny how listening
to the world’s politicians, you would think that terrorists
are just this spontaneous generation of little devils sprung out of
nowhere. Nobody ever asks themselves this very simple question: Why
would anyone in their teenage years go listen to some crazy
50-year-old fanatic preacher who tells you to go blow yourself up
and take as many white-skinned lives as you can? The truth is that
a suicide bombing is as much an act of despair as it is one of
hatred. It is the despair of having to bear as a permanent burden
your birth place and your citizenship. No matter how peaceful you
are, no matter how much merit you possess, if you come from Gaza,
Khartoum or Tehran, the road to dignity is (very) long and full of
obstacles and humiliations: long lines at the doors of consulates,
rejection, intimidating men in uniform at the airport, rejection,
German shepherds sniffing in your suitcase, rejection, recruiters
telling you you’re not American, rejection, applications to
immigration, rejection and no one has even asked you yet about your
skills. What’s worse, no one will question the fairness of
your treatment, for it is justified by the policies that
“secure the nation.”

For those who don’t even have the chance to go through
this path (yes, even this path is a chance), there’s
unfortunately an alternative that will give you a sense of dignity,
albeit a false one: the guru — a terrible trap that will make
you commit the most ignorant, cruel and racist acts, like suicide
bombings.

So what should be done? Abolish all frontiers, burn visas and
I-20s, tear passports? Certainly not. Institutional discrimination
is so well anchored in our system, that removing it overnight would
simply result in chaos. Changes can only be achieved in nanosteps.
The day the career fair at the University is “really
fair,” the day companies understand that a “United
States-only” policy is fundamentally unethical, not much will
change in the world on a global scale. And yet we will have
achieved a colossal advance toward justice and equality in our
society.

 

El-Asmar is a Rackham student.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.