Arizona and China: Compare and Contrast

In response to this item two days ago, several eagle-eyed readers noticed that there perhaps there was the slightest teensy difference between the likely workings of Arizona's new immigration law and the realities of daily life inside Communist China.

You got me! I was actually trying to make a small joke -- and half mockingly, but half seriously too, point out that American life was about to acquire an element familiar in much of the rest of the world, the authorities' request to "show me your papers." And that the comparison holds despite the zillion obvious differences between the two situations. (China is a country hard to get into, and where it's easy to spot foreigners once they're inside. The US is a country easy to get into, and where it's hard to spot foreigners once they're inside. Etc.)

Now two comments: one from a reader who gets the item's intent and goes on to propose a brilliant practical solution; and another from a reader who wants to point out the China/Arizona differences but still argues that Arizona's law is a bad idea.

First, from reader R. Grace in Tokyo:
You compared the situation Hispanics in Arizona are soon to face, with the advent of the new immigration law there, with daily life for foreigners in China, being required to have proof of immigration status available on demand. Here in Japan, as you know, we foreigners are also required to carry our passports or registration cards, though I've been stopped and asked to produce mine only twice in the fifteen years I've lived here.

I feel certain that your sardonic point - that liberty-worshipping Americans will soon be able to look up to China as a comparatively more enlightened society with regard to civil liberties - will be widely misunderstood. The responses will likely fall into two main categories: 1) People who think you're saying that it's perfectly reasonable to expect all civilians to be prepared to prove their immigration status on demand, especially since it's only Hispanics that really need to worry about it - these people will either congratulate you for agreeing with them or be furious with you for saying such a thing; and 2) People who detect the irony in your last paragraph but patiently explain that the Chinese authorities would be more assiduous about examining foreigners' papers if illegal immigration were really a concern there. 

Of course, in most places in China (and almost everywhere in Japan), marching around demanding to see proof of immigration status would be a very inefficient way of finding illegal immigrants, since it's so difficult to get in and stay in the country from just about wherever everyone else in the world is from, but the same technique would be much more efficient in a border state like Arizona.

What I hope will happen is that the Arizona law is enforced with the same single-mindedness of the TSA's approach to airport security. Once all Arizonans are required to present their papers daily to every law enforcement officer that crosses their path, will people wonder whether this cost is worth the "benefit" of a society that is free of undocumented foreigners? Will Arizonans who feel that they are "obviously" not illegal aliens begin, I don't know, sporting American flag lapel pins at all times, or wearing a sign around their neck saying "I AM AN AMERICAN"? It won't work, of course, because such accessories will quickly become popular with bona fide illegal immigrants as well. Maybe Arizona could pass a new law requiring American flag lapel-pin suppliers to verify the immigration status of anyone who buys one, or maybe we'll have to carry a special permit that entitles us to wear lapel pins or signs around our neck. It sounds pretty awful, but that's the price of liberty.

From another reader:

I wonder if your Chinese experience is really applicable to the Arizona law. After all, what they're looking out for in China is quite different from Arizona, as you mentioned. You said of China that you, "typically did not see Chinese police asking for papers on a whim." They're looking for people with subversive ideas or tendencies, not people who are simply present illegally. In the former situation, they have to be selective and, in your words, "avoid going crazy." In the latter, where race, language, and origins are likely to be considered by many police officers to provide a "reasonable suspicion," if not "probable cause," (and perhaps where cultural biases may also be a factor), the Arizona law seems far more likely to invite abuse.