More Arizona-and-China Convergence -- Now With Texas Angle!

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In response to this item, discussing the judgment calls that Chinese security forces make when asking for a foreigner's "papers," and what lessons their practice may hold for Arizona policemen planning to enforce the state's new immigration law, an American academic who asks not to be named sends this account:

A quick follow-up to the second emailer's comment that Chinese authorities are "looking for people with subversive ideas or tendencies, not people who are simply present illegally." This was not my experience in Tianjin, a large but less-known city near Beijing.

While I was visiting my wife (who was living in Tianjin continuously for a year), the police dropped by unannounced several times to spot check that everyone in the apartment had registered their passport at the local police station (required by law within 24 hours of arrival).

On one visit, I had registered, and on another, I hid in the bedroom. The process for registering took about 3 hours, and it was clear that the station bureaucrats were not used to doing it. So it seemed to be an individual tic of an aggressive police officer rather than a system-wide policy. But that just points up the problem of granting such wide authority under Chinese and Arizona law: when you make enforcement discretionary, you're ensuring that enforcement will be uneven, subjective, unpredictable, and thus open to abuse.

And now, from a reader in Texas:

Houston's local talk radio shows are now warning that all those Mexicans will now be fleeing AZ and movin' to Houston.

I wrote back to ask: Were the talk shows using this as a reason to oppose the Arizona law? Or instead to emulate it in Texas? The answer was what I expected (but it's worth being sure):

It was definitely made as an inspiration to follow it.

As a matter of jurisprudence, party politics, economics, inter-American relations, and social comity, this story is going to be unfolding for quite a long time.

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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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