Just when many Hispanics had begun questioning the wisdom of crossing America's southern border, a federal judge put the brakes on Arizona's efforts to let immigrants, especially of the illegal variety, know they are no longer welcome.

Just when many Hispanics had begun questioning the wisdom of crossing America's southern border, a federal judge put the brakes on Arizona's efforts to let immigrants, especially of the illegal variety, know they are no longer welcome.


Last week U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton granted Uncle Sam's request for a temporary injunction preventing enforcement, for the time being, of many parts of Arizona's controversial new immigration law, SB 1070. It would have required police to demand evidence of legal residency from any person who came under "reasonable suspicion" of not being here with permission - and made it a crime not to carry those papers - after being confronted through otherwise "lawful contact," such as a traffic stop. The law also would have permitted police to detain individuals until their status could be clarified.


Bolton was having none of it, at least at first blush. "There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new (law)," she wrote. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."


That last part is critical. That the feds are responsible for immigration policy and border control, not the states, is longstanding precedent in this country. That was the crux of the government's argument, that permitting Arizona to go out on its own, with other states ready to follow suit, would lead to a "patchwork" of immigration laws that would prove a nightmare.


As such this preliminary ruling was rather predictable, with Bolton addressing some of the concerns we had about racial profiling; about the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't burdens being placed on law enforcement (a worry shared by many Arizona police agencies); about the fairness, or lack thereof, to legal immigrants, not only those among the 30 percent of Arizona's total population but visitors to the state who might not have had the prescience to pack their birth certificate with their toothbrush.


Nonetheless, we are of mixed emotions on this ruling.


First, even if you accept the argument that this is Washington's responsibility, how about when Washington isn't living up to its end of the bargain, to which 460,000 illegals living in Arizona attest? Attorneys for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer are not wrong in noting "the irreparable harm Arizona is suffering as a result of unchecked unlawful immigration," with Arizona being the human- and drug-smuggling capital of the U.S.


That said, unlawful immigration is hardly "unchecked" in an Arizona that averages 900 arrests a day for that offense. Moreover, Arizona already has a law that has passed lower court muster - it's now awaiting U.S. Supreme Court review - that has made it illegal "to knowingly employ unauthorized aliens." Why not enforce that one and avoid the baggage of this latest effort at dissuading illegals?


In any case, SB 1070 may not have been for naught, no matter its destiny. The Obama administration is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to reinforce border control efforts. Would that have happened without Arizona forcing Washington's hand? We have our doubts.


Moreover, it has spawned other discussion that may be worth having, like revisiting a 14th Amendment that states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." As always, the devil would be in the details, but there's no question that illegals have exploited that "birthright citizenship." It's one way they get their toehold here, in a nation reluctant to split up families through deportation. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been a reasonable, moderate voice on many matters, is among those questioning whether citizenship should be automatic for the children of illegals, whether the U.S. should in effect be rewarding such behavior, whether that's what was intended by the original authors of the 14th Amendment, whether the nation should be exploring amending that citizenship clause. Obviously, as solutions go, that would not be an immediate one.


As ever, there is no shortage of people trying to politicize the issue, with both parties playing this for both its short-term and long-term vote potential. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl issued a joint statement condemning the Obama administration for "wasting taxpayer resources" suing Arizona when it "should have focused ... on working with Congress to provide the necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the federal goverment has failed to take responsibility."


There is an element of truth to that, just as there is to the observation of Julie Myers Wood, George W. Bush's chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that "this is just the beginning of a very long - and very expensive - legal fight." Arizona has vowed to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and this issue could be headed to the Supreme Court.


We'd hope it's on a fast track there, because otherwise this is an invitation to burn money these governments don't have and energy that could be put to far more productive ends, like creating a temporary guest worker program or a real path to citizenship - an option not available to most in this situation - on this side of the border, and pressuring Mexico to mind its business better on its side. The last administration came up short in crafting a satisfactory immigration bill. Perhaps the time is ripe for this one.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.