Pardon the Border Patrolmen

Enforcing America’s borders is an inherently dangerous responsibility that is critical to the security of our country and the safety of our communities. Despite the fact that many illegal immigrants come here with no criminal intent, others who cross our borders are dangerous criminals smuggling humans, drugs and other illegal contraband. Facing them, the men and women of our nation’s Border Patrol risk their lives daily.

In return for accepting this responsibility and performing their duties as law enforcement officials, Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos are now serving 11 and 12 years in federal prison. This is a severe injustice that we must act to remedy quickly because the lives of these men are in danger, as illustrated by the recent assault against agent Ramos by criminal inmates.

The U.S. government prosecuted agents Compean and Ramos for wounding a drug smuggler on the U.S.-Mexico border. Interestingly, the testimony that ultimately led to their conviction was provided by the wounded drug smuggler himself, who was brought back from Mexico, granted immunity and provided free medical treatment for his cooperation.

The conviction of Ramos and Compean represents a compelling case for a presidential pardon for one reason: prison sentences of 11 and 12 years are not justified by any version of the facts. The drug smuggler contends that, upon being stopped with his 700 pound cargo of marijuana, he was escaping to Mexico and presented no threat to the agents. Thus, the nine millimeter slug in his rear-end represents an unjustified assault. The agents claimed they had a reasonable apprehension and that he was armed, thereby justifying the wounding.

The point is this: the U.S. government has given a punishment to Ramos and Compean that exceeds the average penalty for murder. By all accounts, the drug smuggler was alive and kicking the next day, not even stopping to collect workers’ compensation before his next attempted delivery of illegal drugs.

Imprisoning Compean and Ramos for their efforts to enforce our nation’s illegal immigration laws is troubling. But giving them the equivalent of murder sentences, for wounding a fleeing drug smuggler, constitutes a severe injustice that a presidential pardon can correct.

After a failed request by Congress to keep Compean and Ramos free on bail pending their appeal, the two former lawmen surrendered themselves to federal custody on January 17, 2007. That very same day, I contacted the Bureau of Prisons and personally requested they be segregated from the general prison population to ensure their personal safety. Given that 27% of federal inmates are non-U.S. citizens, the threat to agents Compean and Ramos was both real and imminent.

Despite assurances from Bureau of Prisons staff that significant attention was being paid to their personal safety, agent Ramos was later assaulted by inmates while assimilating with the general prison population. As he was being punched and kicked, agent Ramos could hear his attackers repeating "la migra," a term to describe U.S. government officials that enforce immigration laws.

The apparent disregard for Ramos’ personal safety demonstrates complete ineptitude on the part of the Prison’s Bureau and further underscores the growing list of problems associated with the prosecution of these agents, the way they have been treated and the constant threat they now face as federal inmates.

Members of Congress have directly called on President Bush to pardon Compean and Ramos. So far, he has declined. As the President reconsiders his refusal to issue a pardon as he openly stated he would, I have introduced H.R. 563, the Congressional Pardon for Agents Compean and Ramos Act. This legislation, which has been cosponsored by 85 of my House colleagues, initiates a pardon for Compean and Ramos through the legislative process.

Our nation’s law enforcement officials are not above the laws they are empowered to enforce. But they must also be assured that the necessary and appropriate use of force will not result in the equivalent of a murder sentence.

Pardoning agents Compean and Ramos will correct a terrible injustice and restore the confidence our Border Patrol must have in the people — and the government — they work tirelessly to protect. Equally important, it will demonstrate to the American people that we are serious about enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.