Arizona Is Becoming France: New Evidence

Previous discussion has covered whether Arizona's new immigration law is more Chinese in its inspiration, or in fact more French. Here, which includes links to earlier items. Now, thanks to Robert Mintz, whom I've known since we both survived the smoggy SoCal of the 1960s (and a simultaneous note from Joseph Hearst), literary evidence on the French side.

It's a passage from a 1930s-era essay by James Thurber, called "Wild Bird Hickcock and His Friends." Thurber loved reading French pulp-novel versions of American Westerns, and he described one of them thus:

There were, in my lost and lamented collection, a hundred other fine things, which I have forgotten, but there is one that will forever remain with me. It occured in a book in which, as I remember it, Billy the Kid, alias Billy the Boy, was the central figure. At any rate, two strangers had turned up in a small Western town and their actions had aroused the suspicions of a group of respectable citizens, who forthwith called on the sheriff to complain about the newcomers. The sheriff listened gravely for a while, got up and buckled on his gun belt, and said, "Alors, je vais demander ses cartes d'identité!'' There are few things, in any literature, that have ever given me a greater thrill than coming across that line.

Thurber's essay does not seem to be available online, but this passage shows up in many places.

French rocker Johnny Hallyday (right), as a cowboy:


To wax serious for a moment, although I would bet anything that the new AZ law will be thrown out by some court along the way, evidence suggests that for now it is more popular than not with the US public. The larger point is that immigration is about the only topic that is more complicated -- both as a political matter and as a question of substance -- than dealing with health care. The American economy is geared to having a large quasi-legal or illegal immigrant presence; many Americans like the economic results but don't like the economic, social, legal, etc consequences. Since the US is not going to deport millions upon millions of immigrants, any conceivable deal requires BOTH a promise to restrict future illegal flow and something short of mass roundups and eviction for those already here. But practically no one believes the "this time we really mean it" promises about future border control. And so on.

To sympathize with the AZ officials, they're responding to a genuine national dilemma. Still, their law sounds French. The new face of the 48th state: Hallyday again, about to ask for cartes d'identité.


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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.

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