Legislators seek review of border agents’ conviction
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have asked for congressional hearings and reviews by the White House and Justice Department into the conviction of two U.S. Border Patrol agents who shot and wounded a fleeing drug suspect.
The agents, convicted by a federal jury in El Paso in March, face 20 years in prison at a sentencing hearing next month.
“It appears the facts do not add up or justify the length of the sentences for these agents, let alone their conviction on multiple counts,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. “Border Patrol agents have a difficult and often dangerous job in guarding our nation’s borders.
“Undue prosecution of Border Patrol agents could have a chilling effect on their ability to carry out their duties,” Mrs. Feinstein said in an Aug. 21 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, requesting a full hearing into the matter.
She asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales two weeks ago to investigate the case. The U.S. attorney’s office in El Paso, which reports to the Justice Department, prosecuted the two agents.
In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, asked the White House to review the case, saying the prosecution was “outrageous.” He said it did nothing but “tie the hands of the Border Patrol and prevent the agency from securing America against a flood of illegal immigrants, drugs, counterfeit goods and, quite possibly, terrorists.”
“This demoralizing prosecution puts the rights of illegal smugglers ahead of our homeland security and undermines the critical mission of better enforcing immigration laws,” Mr. Jones said. “These two agents should not be made scapegoats for our government’s enforcement failures.”
A federal jury convicted agents Ignacio Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, in March of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearmin relation to a crime of violence, and a civil rights violation. The shooting occurred Feb. 17, 2005, near Fabens, Texas, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso.
Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national, was wounded as he ran from the agents along the Rio Grande after they said he pointed what appeared to be a gun at them as they tried to apprehend him. Nearly 800 pounds of marijuana, worth $1 million, was found in the van that heabandoned at the river’s edge, the Border Patrol said.
Mr. Aldrete-Davila, who was given immunity by prosecutors to testify against the agents, also received care at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso. He is suing the government for $5 million for violating his civil rights.
“The circumstances do not justify the verdict, and these convictions are already having an adverse impact on the Border Patrol,” Mrs. Feinstein said.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a congressional investigation and open hearings on the case during an immigration field hearing in El Paso. The committee’s investigation is expected to begin before the end of the year.
Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, who attended the El Paso hearing, said that if the arrest, trial and conviction of the two Border Patrol agents had resulted in a chilling effect on others, “then it’s definitely something we should know about.”
Spotted in his van near the Rio Grande, records show that Ramos gave chase while Compean circled around to head off the suspect. When Mr. Aldrete-Davila jumped out of the van and ran south to the river, he was confronted by Compean, who was thrown to the ground as the two men fought. Ramos said that when he arrived, he saw Compean on the ground and chased Mr. Aldrete-Davila to the river, where the suspect suddenly turned toward him, pointing what looked like a gun.
Ramos said he fired at the fleeing suspect but did not think hehad been hit after watching him run through the bush, jump into an awaiting van in Mexico and speed off.
An investigator from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General tracked down Mr.Aldrete-DavilainMexico,where he was offered immunity in exchange for testimony. The department oversees the Border Patrol.
A U.S. probation officer has recommended in a report to the court that the agents be sentenced to 20 years.
Protesters on Aug. 20 wave signs in support of a recent anti-immigration law passed in Riverside, N.J. They were countering a protest against a township ordinance adopted last month that bans the hiring and housing of people who can't offer verification that they are in the U.S. legally.