Essay Question: Is AZ More Like China -- or Like France?

I realize that as a web-site topic, the new Arizona immigration law is about running its course -- even before its effects in the real world kick in. But before we say good bye to it (previously  here and here and here and here), two more reader reactions, on the shared theme of unintended consequences. First, about which people will find the "show me your papers" request trickiest to deal with:

The truly entertaining bit about the new papers-please regime in Arizona is that it's actually harder for Americans to demonstrate that they're legally in the US than it is for anyone else: to a zeroth-order approximation, no American has a passport (the most recent figure I've seen is 25%) or citizenship card, let alone carries it with them.  Driver's licenses and social security cards don't demonstrate anything about the holder's legal presence.  In contrast, someone who is illegally in Arizona and might well already have an illicit social security card has little downside to acquiring knockoffs of whatever documents the local authorities want: I predict Arizona's next booming industry will be forgery.

Now, from a reader who says it's not quite right to compare the new Arizona to Communist China:

I empathize with your misgivings over legislation that would allow law enforcement officers the right to demand identity papers from whomever they meet in the street. Meaning that an individual must have on him or her/ self her national ID card or a passport (for a foreigner). That is the case of France where I live.  The French must always have their National ID card on them - for the police can demand to see it at any and all times. 

Foreigners, in principle, must always have a piece of ID on them - like a passport. I never carry this with me - in 14 years of living here, I've never had my passport on me except when I've been on my way to the airport and going abroad.  But I'm white and look (sometimes sound) French of Gaullish stock. The police, in the vast majority of cases, stop and demand ID papers from youngish (under 40) males of African or Arab descent, be they French nationals or no.

It is not a well-looked upon practice of the police, but the French aren't adamant enough against it to seek its abolition. As far as I understand, such identity checks have been a long staple of police work in France going back to the Revolutionary/Napoleonic era wherein the State underwent a reinforcement of its prerogatives over the citizenry.

The immigration bill will, paradoxically/ironically, make the libertarian/Goldwaterian Arizona resemble France which is prone to double up on control measures despite its laxist ways in enforcing "rules" (ie, concerning smoking, driving, paying taxes, etc...).

If the Democrats had any sense of panache, they would point out that in conservative politics the only thing more wounding that saying someone's system is like the Communists' is saying that it has that certain je ne sais quoi.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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