First They Came for the Mexicans

First They Came for the Mexicans

First They Came for the Mexicans

Science, technology, and life.
May 4 2009 4:28 PM

First They Came for the Mexicans

Wasn't it just this morning that we were talking about the perils of classifying and treating people according to race ?

Look at the news from China this afternoon. According to the  New York Times :

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


The Chinese authorities have confined dozens of Mexicans to hotels and hospitals despite having no signs of human swine virus, Mexican consular officials said Monday. ... Since last Thursday, when an AeroMexico flight from Mexico City arrived in Shanghai with an infected man, Chinese health officials have been rounding up his fellow passengers as well as travelers on other flights who showed no signs of illness. But authorities also sequestered a number of Mexican passport holders who had not been home in months ...

This is exactly what I worried about in last week's discussion of thermal scanners :

If you think heat is a bad proxy for flu infection, ask yourself whether it's worse than nationality. Travel companies are canceling flights to Mexico . Today, Japan began denying visas to Mexicans on arrival. Governments and businesses want an easy way to identify, segregate, and scrutinize the people most likely to be carriers. Which group would you rather they target? People with excess body heat? Or Mexicans?

Looks like China has already decided to target Mexicans. And please don't try to defend this as a logical response to a flu that came from Mexico. When you're rounding up Mexicans who haven't been home during the flu's existence, logic is out the window.

Strictly speaking, this isn't inappropriate classification and discrimination based on race. It's inappropriate classification and discrimination based on nationality. But the point is the same: Beware the easy recourse to crude categories.