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A leading opponent of illegal immigration cautioned on his Facebook page Friday that Utah's freshly minted guest-worker law creates a loophole that would have allowed 9/11 hijackers to live legally in the state by paying a simple fine.

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, made the post just days after U.S. Navy SEALs killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. But Mortensen said his catalyst for the post was a recent General Accountability Office report that addressed the terrorist attacks and expired visas, adding that he has warned for months of the loophole for terrorists.

Mortensen's post is the latest salvo by those attempting to repeal the guest-worker law, HB116, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert at the end of the Utah legislative session.

"HB116 proponents argue that individuals who overstay their visas are just committing a civil infraction equivalent to a traffic ticket and would let them stay in the U.S.," Mortensen wrote. "However, five of the 19 hijackers responsible for carrying out the 9/11 terrorist attacks overstayed their visas and 36 of about 400 terrorists convicted by the United States since 9/11 had overstayed their visas to remain in the country."

Mortensen said the 9/11 comparison points out "how ridiculous HB116 is."

The guest-worker law is scheduled to take effect in July 2013 and it would levy a fine of $2,500 against those who are in the state without legal status. The fine would be $1,000 if the person had overstayed a visa. The law was designed, according to its supporters, to bring the roughly 110,000 undocumented immigrants in Utah from out of the shadows and allow them to pay taxes and fully participate in society. That population estimate is the latest from Pew Hispanic Center.

It is also being challenged by critics for being unconstitutional.

Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute — a conservative think-tank that supported the guest-worker law, also used the word "ridiculous," but applied it to Mortensen's tactics and conclusions.

"So, the civil infraction is like a speeding ticket," Mero said. "So he's saying we ought to go to extra lengths to do what — get into their personal lives and find out if they're a potential terrorist? It's a ridiculous argument to make."

And Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, a co-sponsor who was instrumental in getting HB116 passed in the Legislature, said enforcement-only bills also would not have prevented terrorist attacks.

"I fail to see the connection between HB116 … or any other Utah immigration initiative and the acts of terrorists," Bramble said in an email.

Twitter: @davemontero —

HB497 suit

A preliminary injunction to block an immigration law in federal court was filed Friday. › B4