Villified for its harsh new law criminalizing illegal immigration, Arizona is taking the rap for Washington's abject and ongoing neglect of the issue.

Immigration, after all, always has rightfully been a federal matter. The borders of the nation, not just of a state, are being breached. And if life in Arizona becomes too callous for those who are there illegally, they will move on to adjacent states, New Mexico, Nevada and California, and beyond. Clearly, then, their presence and their mobility thereafter are national concerns.

It's easy for people in the Northeast and other places distant from Arizona to condemn a law that requires -- not just allows, but requires -- police to demand proof of citizenship from people if there is "reasonable suspicion" of their legal status in the country. Failure to furnish that proof -- not only to have it, but to produce it on demand -- can land a person in jail.

Draconian? Probably. But there are reportedly almost half a million illegal immigrants in Arizona. There is real fear there that the violence of the Mexican drug wars can spread like a cancer. And, of course, there are the social and economic issues that strain resources financed by taxpaying citizens.

But the problem arises with the "reasonable suspicion" qualification. Is it reasonable to suspect anyone who speaks with an accent and/or has dark skin? That strongly suggests racial profiling. But then again doesn't any law enforcement tend at times to be discriminatory? Aren't police naturally more suspicious of some people than others?

Defenders of Arizona's aggressive approach rationalize it by saying people who have done no wrong and are here legitimately shouldn't resent being asked for identification. A man might feel differently if he's stopped because he didn't shave that morning or if he's driving a beat-up old car. Having a uniformed man flash a badge and demand to see your papers evokes memories of wartime occupation forces and check points. It isn't pleasant.

So, while there is much to be said for Arizona's understandable anxieties, there is also much to be disparaged in the high-handed approach that ultimately might spoil any kind of cooperative relationship police hope to achieve in minority communities. The City of Danbury worked out a more acceptable way. Its police officers have been trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on identifying illegals only in the course of crime investigations that require knowledge of a suspect's background.

Throughout the history of mankind, people always have naturally been attracted to places that seem to promise a better way of life. It was true in the days of the Pilgrims and it was true when the "huddled masses" first began arriving on American shores in the great waves of immigration. And it is true now.

That reality suggests two steps that ought to be considered first in any attempt at a solution. If employment opportunities here were scarce to illegal immigrants, would they be as eager to sneak into the country? That shifts a responsibility to prospective employers on this side of the border. No papers? No job.

At the same time, the onus falls on the countries illegal immigrants are fleeing. The United States shares a vast, relatively unprotected border with Canada. It would be naïve to believe that there are no illegal crossings, either by people or contraband goods, but they pale in comparison to the flood tide at the porous border with Mexico. Clearly, Mexico ought to be made to feel the pressures for improvements that would make more of its nationals want to stay home.

These are measures that only the federal government can undertake, along with tightening security measures at the nation's borders. Getting any of that done will require a strong political will, largely lacking to date. There are business interests and the mega-farms that say immigrant labor is essential. Without it and its low pay scales, price levels would be threatened and economic stability would be jeopardized. And there are politicians of all stripes who get that message loud and clear and translate it quickly in what it would mean to them at the polls.