Paul Greenberg

The administration's lawsuit against the State of Arizona for attempting to stem the tide of illegal immigrants across its southern border isn't just an exercise in litigation. It's an exercise in irony.

For once upon a sad time, namely the bad old days in these Southern latitudes, states systematically denied a large class of their citizens the equal protection of the laws, denying their rights and, when challenged, waving the banner of States' Rights to cover the mistreatment of their own citizens.

The federal government was bound by law and conscience to step into that vacuum of law, and protect the privileges and immunities of all its citizens, to use the language of the Fourteenth Amendment. And it finally did so. The happy result is that the evils of racial segregation enforced by state law, and defended by various and distinguished advocates, is now a thing of the past.

Now the legal positions are reversed. It is the federal government that has long neglected its duty to secure the country's border, and so protect its citizens -- especially in states like Arizona. So state governments are trying to fill that vacuum. And it is the federal government, waving the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, that seeks to divert attention from its own failure to enforce the laws of the United States.

For connoisseurs of irony, a sage observer once noted, politics is a virtual banquet

Of course, the U.S. Department of Justice is suing the supposedly sovereign State of Arizona. It's so much easier to file suit than to secure the country's border.

The flood of intruders crossing that broken border represents a danger to the life, liberty and property of Arizona's citizens -- especially when the trade in illegal drugs runs through the Grand Canyon state. That geological wonder isn't the only prominent hole in Arizona; its porous border with Mexico is another.

Nor is Arizona the only state struggling with illegal immigration, which has become a national phenomenon. It's just more intense in places like Arizona, California and Texas. But because it's a national issue, does that mean illegal immigration can only be tackled by the national government -- and states need to butt out?

At this point, the thought might occur to a simple layman unlearned in the law that, just because something is a federal problem, like anything from illegal drugs to kidnapping, doesn't mean it's only a federal problem. States have passed a multitude of their own laws against various crimes. Why not illegal entry?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.