Questions and comments made by several justices during last week's oral arguments suggested the Supreme Court might validate that portion of a controversial Arizona law that would allow local police to question persons suspected of other crimes about their immigration status.

The court wouldn't consider the likelihood that such questioning might violate the questioned person's civil rights because that is the subject of separate litigation.

The justices are limited to ruling on the constitutionality of specific issues brought before the high court, so they also didn't comment on the morality of the Arizona law and others like it either proposed or enacted in other states.

Too bad.

In a nation that puts a very high price on freedom, the Arizona law is not only immoral in its resorting to police-state tactics that invite the harassment of anyone who looks like an immigrant — whether in this country legally or not — but also unneeded.

For one thing, federal law already covers the treatment of illegal immigrants. In fact, Latino groups for months have been complaining about the Obama administration's heightened efforts to find and deport persons here illegally. But even more significant, this country's illegal-immigration crisis has largely subsided.

The Pew Hispanic Center is reporting that after four decades that brought the largest wave of immigration from a single country in the history of the United States, the net migration flow from Mexico not only has stopped; it appears to have reversed.

Several factors are at work, the Pew Center said, including a lack of U.S. jobs since the recession hit the housing market; a rise in deportations due to President Obama's crackdown; an increased likelihood of border jumpers being attacked; and finally, a long-term decline in Mexico's birthrate that has helped increase job opportunities there.

The downward trend in net migration from Mexico began five years ago. Since then, the number of Mexicans in this country illegally has dropped from about seven million to six million. That's still a large number, but the decline suggests states like Arizona that claim they are still being "invaded" don't need to resort to drastic measures.

And those proposing "show me your papers" laws in states far away from the Mexican border are being downright ludicrous. That includes State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who has proposed a similar law for Pennsylvania, saying the states have become "the only line of defense."

The stated goal of Arizona's two-year-old law is "attrition through enforcement," but as the Pew figures show, attrition doesn't require the states to pass harassment legislation that relies on racial profiling to determine who should be asked for their ID. What's next? Asking anyone who looks as if they might be here illegally to wear a symbol on their clothes to save time?

Even if the court rules that Arizona can question people properly detained for other legal reasons about their immigration status, it must also acknowledge that the states do not have the constitutional authority to do anything else, other than contact federal authorities. If the feds don't come get him, unless that person has committed another crime, he must be released.

Proponents of the Arizona law also ignore the reality that illegal immigrants do make a contribution to the U.S. economy. In fact, after Alabama enacted an identification law even more stringent than Arizona's, a study said the law could cause up to 140,000 illegal immigrants to lose their jobs and that their lost earnings could cost the state up to $264 million in taxes.

The federal government does need to do more about the illegal immigrants in this country, but that doesn't include giving the states permission to act as its surrogate in securing the border from the U.S. side. What's needed is what has been needed for years — comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

America doesn't need to break up families that have been here for years, paying their bills and taxes. It needs to help them become legal.