Things have gotten better now, but the early years were bad. I have lots of horror stories--my family being stopped while driving solely for the purpose of checking documents and then detained for hours of harassment. Being held at the border from 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM while customs officials ripped open boxes of breakfast cereal checking for God knows what, then made us load it all back into the car, drive five feet, and go through the procedure again. The constant paranoia of being stopped on the street (we were pretty obviously foreigners in those days) and arrested/detained/harassed because the cop didn't like you, or the i wasn't dotted, or, woe betide you, you had forgotten any one of the numerous documents which you had to have available to produce on demand.
Abuses like these are not unique to our historical era--they led our founders to include the fourth amendment in the bill of rights--which states, in essence, that you can't be arrested, searched, or spied upon unless the police have good reason to suspect that you have committed a crime.
This leads us to Arizona's new immigration law. The bill modestly states that "there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws" in the State; in effect, the lawmakers claim that what they want to do is to make sure that immigration policy is actually enforced. This is ... odd. We're passing laws that say we have to follow the laws? In and of itself, there's nothing particularly wrong with government thinking that laws should be enforced--that's more or less what government does--though in this particular case the undue emphasis on enforcing certain laws does raise the question of motivation, which I believe to be animus against Hispanic/Mexican immigrants.
The bill goes rather beyond that, however:
FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL ... WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON. THE PERSON'S IMMIGRATION STATUS SHALL BE VERIFIED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ...This is the "Papers, please" clause. On the one level, all right, when policemen suspect someone of committing a crime, they check it out. But again, why point it out? This is what policemen do, they don't need another law to tell them to do their jobs--unless the whole point of the law is to tell them to crack down, or else to wink at reasonable suspicion and reasonable attempt, in violation of the fourth amendment. If a policeman thinks that you're illegal, he makes a check. Why does he think you're an illegal? Despite their repeated denials that it is because of racial profiling, no one has provided any other answer. How does he make a check, other than demanding to see your documents? No one knows that, either. Will you be detained while he checks your papers against the federal government's records? Well, it would be really stupid to let you go while he figures out whether or not you broke the law, wouldn't it? What happens if you're an American citizen who went for a walk without your driver's license? Well, you get arrested, because the law gives the cops the right.
In other words, the situation in Arizona today is exactly what I went through in Eastern Europe in the bad old days right after the fall--cops have the right to stop you on the street and demand documents, and God help you if they aren't in order. More than that, the law makes provision for people to sue police officers and departments if they suspect that these or any other immigration policies are not being pursued to their fullest extent.
For me, this embodies what's wrong with the Right--over the past year and a half, 'communist' has become a catch-all epithet for anyone who would use the government to do anything besides coddle the rich and start wars. Now, they do to immigrants (and brown citizens) what the real-life, flesh-and-blood communists actually did to me while their epistemic echo-chamber resonates with thunderous applause.