The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security this week held a long overdue hearing to "examine the prosecution of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean," the two border patrol agents who were sentenced last October to a combined 23 years in prison for pursuing an illegal alien drug smuggler.
The border agents have earned national attention as many, including the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), believe they were wrongly convicted. Indeed, CFIF activists and other concerned Americans literally have made millions of phone calls and sent as many faxes and letters during the last year urging President Bush to issue immediate and unconditional pardons for Agents Ramos and Compean.
The case stems back to February 2005, when the two border agents spotted a suspicious van on the U.S. side of the Mexican-American border. The van was loaded with 743 lbs. -- or $1.2 million worth -- of marijuana. As they approached the van, the driver, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, an illegal alien drug smuggler, fled for the border.
Ramos and Compean pursued Aldrete-Davila. At one point, according the agents' sworn testimony, Aldrete-Davila suddenly turned and pointed what appeared to be something "shiny" at them. In response, Ramos and Compean fired their weapons at the fleeing drug smuggler who was hit in the buttocks before escaping into Mexico.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, whose office prosecuted the cases, charged Agents Ramos and Compean with 13 different offenses, including a questionable federal firearms offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. As for the illegal alien drug smuggler, Sutton's office provided him with full immunity, free medical care at an Army hospital in San Antonio, Texas -- care of American taxpayers -- and "humanitarian passes" to cross the border as he pleased in exchange for serving as a "star witness" against the agents.
Agents Ramos and Compean have now served six months of their 11- and 12-year respective sentences. Aldrete-Davila, who is suspected of trying to smuggle another drug load into the United States during the trial, is still free today.
As Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) testified during the subcommittee hearing this week, "[The] U.S. government sadly decided to side with the drug dealer and prosecute agents Compean and Ramos for simply fulfilling their duties as Border patrolmen."
Also during the Senate hearing, several Senators, including Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Judiciary Subcommittee, grilled U.S. Attorney Sutton as he unconvincingly attempted to defend the prosecutions. As reported by Cybercast News Service, "Feinstein frequently cringed and often looked perturbed at Sutton's responses."
In a statement following the hearing, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) stated, "It is incomprehensible to me that an illegal alien drug smuggler was allowed to violate his immunity agreement, perjure himself and be granted a series of unlimited visas to roam free in our country while two border patrol agents were given excessive prison sentences. The drug smuggler, who should be in prison, was given all the breaks and the Border Patrol agents received none of the breaks. This case cries out for a commutation that is fair and just."
This week's Senate hearing is just the latest Congressional response to the overwhelming public outrage over the circumstances of the case and the failure of President Bush thus far to pardon or commute the sentences of Agents Ramos and Compean.
Several months ago, 51 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bush demanding a pardon of the two border patrol agents. That letter read, in part, "We can think of nothing more immoral than to allow the lives and families of those who protect us to be destroyed by an overly aggressive and questionable prosecution by the U.S. attorney's office. The severity of the charges brought against these men, and the harshness of the punishment is totally disproportionate to the violation in question."
In addition, 101 House members have thus far signed on as co-sponsors to legislation seeking a pardon for Ramos and Compean.
Following this week's hearing, Senators Feinstein and Cornyn fired off another letter to President Bush. "Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a fact-finding hearing on this case. That hearing confirmed the concerns raised by many members of the public: that this penalty levied on these Agents is excessive and that they deserve the immediate exercise of your Executive clemency powers," the letter reads. "We believe that this is a case of prosecutorial overreaching, and to allow Agents Ramos and Compean to serve over a decade in prison would represent a serious miscarriage of justice."
According to Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), perhaps the most vocal critic of President Bush on this issue, Senator Feinstein's increased involvement could signal a turning point in the fight to achieve justice for Agents Ramos and Compean. "I think the President may well start listening when he knows Democrats are getting into this in a big way. He keeps talking about Christianity. I would hope a little Christian charity would touch his heart. But if that doesn't work, Sen. Feinstein banging on the gavel may," he said.
Rohrabacher is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and will participate in another Congressional hearing expected later this month on whether the Mexican government had a role in the harsh prosecution of the border agents.
We hope the recent and welcome Congressional attention this issue has earned will finally force the Bush Administration to wake up and give the excessive prosecutions of Agents Ramos and Compean the attention they deserve.
Until that happens, CFIF activists and millions of other Americans will continue to bang the drum, sending a very clear message: "MR. PRESIDENT, IT'S TIME TO FREE BORDER AGENTS COMPEAN AND RAMOS!"
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