Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents — whose cases became flashpoints in the controversy over border security — were released early from prison Tuesday, one of their attorneys and a congressman said.
The agents were convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed illegal immigrant and then covering it up. President George W. Bush issued commutations for both men during his final days in office last month. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean had received 11- and 12-year prison sentences, respectively. After the commutation, their prison sentences were set to end March 20. Ramos was released on furlough to travel from prison in Phoenix, Arizona, to his home in El Paso, Texas, where he will serve the remaining portion of his sentence under house arrest, said his attorney, David L. Botsford of Austin, Texas. After March 20, Ramos will be on “supervised release” — similar to probation — for up to three years, Botsford said. Compean had been incarcerated in Elkton, Ohio, said U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California.
“At last, Ramos and Compean have been rightfully reunited with their families,” Rohrabacher said in a statement. “This day is long overdue. I wish the Ramos and Compean families the best as they now try to pick up the pieces and begin to heal from this terrible ordeal.” Both men had requested presidential clemency, and the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney was reviewing their requests when Bush made his decision, office spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said. “The president has reviewed the circumstances of this case as a whole and the conditions of confinement and believes the sentences they received are too harsh and that they, and their families, have suffered enough for their crimes,” a senior administration official said. The official noted that both Democratic and Republican members of Congress had supported a commutation, including President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Texas GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner, in a statement posted on the agency’s Web site, confirmed that his staff wrongly told members of Congress last September that Compean had stated he “wanted to shoot a Mexican.” “At the time my staff made that statement, they believed it to be true, although we later learned it was inaccurate,” Skinner said. “In fact, Mr. Compean had stated in a sworn statement that ‘my intent was to kill the alien … and I think Nacho [Ramos] was also trying to kill the alien.’ ”
Bush commutes sentences of ex-Border Patrol agents
Critics of U.S. immigration policy have been campaigning for a pardon for the two agents, arguing they were just doing their jobs. The shooting happened February 17, 2005, on the U.S.-Mexico border southeast of El Paso, Texas. During their trial, Ramos and Compean said that the illegal immigrant, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, had brandished a gun while actively resisting arrest. Aldrete-Davila said, however, that he was unarmed and trying to surrender when Compean attempted to beat him with a shotgun. Aldrete-Davila was shot while fleeing toward the Rio Grande. Ramos and Compean were convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident and violating Aldrete-Davila’s Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure. After receiving immunity to testify in the case against the two agents, Aldrete-Davila was arrested in 2007 on charges of bringing more than 750 pounds of marijuana into the United States. The case became a political flashpoint, with advocates of tighter border controls defending the agents and civil liberties groups saying that the agents had used illegal and excessive force against Aldrete-Davila. Bush granted 189 pardons and 11 commutations during his eight years in office, far fewer than Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in their two-term administrations. A commutation reduces a convict’s prison term, but the conviction remains on the person’s record. A pardon wipes the slate clean by erasing the record of the conviction. A president has the sole authority to grant clemency to whomever he chooses, although a Justice Department office usually reviews applications and makes recommendations after considering such standards as a person’s degree of remorse and ability to lead a responsible and productive life after release. Those applying for a pardon through the Justice Department are required to wait at least five years after their conviction or release from confinement.