We, like a great many people, were pleased to see that one of George W. Bush’s final acts as president was to commute the prison sentences of two Border Patrol agents incarcerated for the shooting of a Mexican drug dealer.
Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who are serving prison sentences of 11 years and 13 years respectively, will be released from prison in March, thanks to Bush’s order.
Their case is deeply enmeshed in the political dispute over how this country handles illegal immigration.
Compean and Ramos were patrolling the border near El Paso, Texas, in 2005 when they encountered a van driven by a suspected illegal immigrant. They shot Osvaldo Aldrete
Davilla, an admitted drug dealer now in federal prison, as he fled across the Rio Grande, leaving several hundred pounds of marijuana in the van.
The border agents said they believed Davilla was armed and only shot him in self defense.
Their supporters argued that the two agents were being punished for doing their jobs — defending this country against not only illegal immigrants, but a criminal attempting to smuggle drugs into the country.
But Ramos and Compean hurt their own cause by failing to tell their supervisors about the shooting and by attempting to hide evidence, such as shell casings.
They were convicted of civil-rights violations and discharging firearms during the commission of a crime. They have been in solitary confinement the past two years.
It wasn’t just conservative, anti-immigration types who thought Ramos and Compean got a raw deal. Republicans and Democratic lawmakers, mostly from Texas, urged Bush to commute the sentences. Even Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, supported the commutation.
Given the circumstances, a pardon for the two Border Patrol agents was unlikely. But Bush was right to commute the sentences in a case that had far more shades of gray than black and white.