If you don't like that terminology, maybe we could call them "Jan Crow Laws." I'd be willing to sacrifice a little historical accuracy (Jim Crow laws were different from Black Codes) to get the larger historical point across.
Eli has a very nice post about this over at The Lens, but it goes too quickly to Third Reich imagery for my taste. A lot of folks on the left are doing that, making connections to Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or Communist China. I understand why, with all the Tea Party talk of "tyranny" and "fascism," applause for such a transparent erosion of civil liberty appears disingenuous at best.
I'm not even saying those comparisons are inaccurate. Lord knows, asking for someone's papers without probable cause is a hallmark of how those nations kept control of their populations, and part of the reason we consider our nation better than theirs.
How easily we forget.
We don't have to go so far away to find the "papers, please" mentality on our own shores or in our own history. How far back should we go? Shall we start with the Free-Papers required of free people of color during the antebellum period? Remember that happy time for a certain demographic of Americans? Let us not forget that members of that particular demographic not lucky enough to be free had to carry papers too, whenever they left their place of servitude, lest they be beaten with a whip or worse*. During this era, any member of one demographic could demand the papers of the other demographic.
But the Civil War ended all that, didn't it? Nope. I already linked to the online definition of Black Codes, please allow me to parse the money quote:
Whenever it was required of them they must present licenses (in a town from the mayor; elsewhere from a member of the board of police of the beat) citing their places of residence and authorizing them to work.
Oh, the burn. I know it hurts to bring real United States history into a conversation. So uncomfortable for those who disagree.
Shall I go further, into the "War on Drugs" and "War on Terror" erosions of civil liberties in this country? My whole life I've been stopped, questioned, and had my identification examined by authorities for such cause as "walking on a sidewalk," "wearing a red bandana" and "evacuating during a mandatory evacuation." Don't tell me this doesn't happen, just because it doesn't happen to you.
Speaking of that, how about the "emergency situation" requirements for identification? What do you think happens to individuals in disaster areas who are unable to produce ID, even if they are just cleaning up their own homes or trying to use the area's only working phone?
This ain't ancient history, is what I'm sayin'.
Because, while this new law might disproportionately affect only one demographic group right now, don't think it can't be made to affect others. When the last vestiges of probable cause are removed, no one is safe from government intrusion.
And, no, this is not hyperbole; this is what we actually associate with tyranny and totalitarianism. But we shouldn't be surprised, as those associations are rooted deeply in our own uncomfortable history.
Update: Oyster's take on the legislation's authors.
And, at least some conservatives are unhappy with this law. Kyle Wingfield of the AJC says "In short, I don’t think 'Your papers, please' fits in a free society."
* Which was not considered torture by the majority of Americans at that time.