Robert Novak

The classic case is Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of United Flight 93 when passengers fought the terrorists and the plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Jarrah was an illegal alien from Lebanon who had violated U.S. immigration laws but had avoided apprehension by authorities until he was stopped on Sept. 9, 2001, for speeding in Maryland on his way from Baltimore to join his confederates in Newark.

Nawaf al-Hazmi, the 9-11 plot's second in command, also had been stopped for speeding April 1, 2001. The visa on his Saudi Arabian passport had expired eight-and-one-half months earlier, but the Oklahoma patrolman did not ask to see it.

Had these local police officers been as well briefed as law enforcement officers are now, Jarrah or Hazmi might well have been taken into custody. It is conceivable that the 9-11 conspiracy would have been uncovered and disaster averted. But that would not be possible under the Senate bill. In contrast, the House bill provides assistance to local police to encourage their help in immigration enforcement.

Kobach joined law enforcement officers to explain this situation at the San Diego hearing. In Laredo, the emphasis will switch to the Senate bill's restrictions on construction of a wall on the Mexican border. To Royce and the House Republican leadership, the entire Senate version is honeycombed with undigested provisions needing more debate.

This is a Senate bill co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, who may be the next Republican presidential nominee, and endorsed by President Bush. But the polls show clear public preference for the House bill -- and make border protection a priority for most Republicans in Congress. The hearings in San Diego and Laredo only fortify that tendency.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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