06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Do Arizona and Iraq Have in Common?

My husband and I were walking on a rainy, chilly Friday night from our car to one of the many Italian restaurants on Chicago's Taylor Street. It was after 10 and we got in under the wire as the kitchen was closing. A man in his early 20s who I guessed to be Hispanic rode by on a creaky bicycle wearing shorts and a t-shirt and carrying under his arm what looked like a kitchen uniform. I wondered if this were Phoenix rather than Chicago if police, under the immigration law passed that day, could stop him and ask him for identification.

I was listening to NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" as guest host Jacki Lyden interviewed departing Baghdad bureau chief Quil Lawrence. They discussed the changes in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and Lawrence made the point that Saddam's web of secret police and prisons was so omnipresent, so oppressive that whenever five people got together, it was a safe bet one of them was a snitch for the state.

And so I thought again about Arizona and its new law that allows the police to stop a person if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is not in the country legally. The AP quoted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizonan who has become famous for his advocacy of the harshest crackdown on illegal immigrants. The new law, the AP reported, "gives him new authority to detain undocumented migrants who aren't accused of committing any other crimes. 'Now if we can show they're illegal, we can actually arrest them and put them in our jails.'"

Iraq was lousy with snitches. Arizona could follow suit; its citizens ratting out others for a myriad of reasons--personal, political, a grudge, a nature simply racist or mean or angry.

Unless the law is stopped before it can take effect--in late July or early August--it could turn out to have an impact that not even George Orwell could have imagined. It could create a system of informers that would make Saddam Hussein sit up in his grave and salute.