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Proving Identity

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United States law, over the past two hundred years or so, has subjected people whose race rendered them noncitizens or of dubious citizenship to a variety of rules requiring that they carry identification documents at all times. Those laws fill a gap in the policing authority of the state, by connecting the individual’s physical body with information the government has on file about him; they also can entail humiliation and subordination. Accordingly, it is not surprising that U.S. law has almost always imposed these requirements on people outside our circle of citizenship: African Americans in the antebellum South, Chinese immigrants, legally resident aliens. Today, though, there’s reason to think that we’re moving closer to a universal identity-papers regime.