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Beg Pardon?

March 13 2002

Last Monday, as America marked the six-month anniversary of September 11 with tearful vigils and solemn reflection, a letter arrived at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida. Inside, official approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service for two flight students who entered the country on tourist visas to stay on for schooling.

But the pair won't be taking advantage of the INS' largesse. They've been dead for six months, killed aboard the suicide missions they piloted.

Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi completed their visa applications on August 29, 2000, just before their flight instruction began. On July 17, 2001 - six months after his training concluded -- Atta was notified that his student visa was approved. Alshehhi received notice on August 9, 2001. But in a blunder half comic and wholly tragic, their paperwork didn't catch up until Monday, and though the hijackers' names had been splashed across every front page in the country, in an ode to its own ineptitude, the INS still rubber-stamped posthumous permission to live among us.

Nearly eight out of ten polled by the Center for Immigration Studies after the September 11 attacks - including 74% self-described liberals - believe that America's lax immigration policies put us at risk for another terrorist attack. But the day news of the INS' botchery broke, the House, by a 275-137 vote, granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Reason: President Bush is taking a trip to Mexico, El Salvador and Peru and he wants to go bearing gifts. And as one Republican aide told the Washington Times, "That's the only reason we're doing it. What the President wants, the President gets."

In an up-the-down-staircase twist, the original amnesty vote was scheduled for September 11 and seemed headed for swift passage since a preliminary vote last May drew just 43 dissenting votes. The tragedy gave Congress pause, but only pause, as last night a two-thirds majority agreed to, in the words of Rep. Tom Tancredo, "reward illegal behavior at a time when we should be strengthening enforcement."

At present, the INS faces a backlog of 4.2 million applications. But the overwhelmed agency is so incapable of screening those petitions that Atta and Alshehhi won approval months after their misdeeds become the decade's biggest news. Reality bites - and Congress raises the white flag. Rather than reforming the process that gives terror's poster boys carte blanche, our representatives decided to scrap it all together by granting haven to millions who have never been screened - and now never will.

"It is regrettable that the flight school is receiving the paperwork on this late date," an INS spokesman told the Associated Press. Regrettable? Try catastrophic - and not because bureaucracy ran late, but because Congress is caught in a bubble of self-deceit. Leave aside the inanity of Republicans who believe pandering to illegals will swell their constituency. The most rudimentary national security analysis suggests that so long as we're signing permission slips for dead terrorists, the system is broken, and the stress of millions more can only put us at greater risk. Just ask Atta and Alshehhi.

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