As one of his last acts in presidency, former President George W. Bush commuted the sentences for both Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos on Monday, January 19, 2009. These former Border Patrol agents were convicted after a shooting that occurred in February 2005, in the El Paso County region of Texas. While on duty guarding a section of the Mexican-American border infamously known for its immigrant crossings, they came across an unarmed drug-smuggler named Osvaldo Aldrete Dávila. Both officers shot and wounded Dávila, after which they allegedly attempted to file false reports of the incident. At the time the shootings occurred, Dávila was found fleeing from a van filled with almost 800 pounds of marijuana.
On January 17, 2007, both Compean and Ramos were incarcerated, with 12 and 11 year prison sentences respectively. After an unsuccessful appeal, protests on both sides and moderately significant bi-partisan political support for the former officers, Bush decided to commute the sentences. Having spent a majority of their time in solitary confinement, Compean and Ramos will be released on March 20, 2009. They will still be under probation and incapable of rejoining the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However, this appears to be a victory for both men and for those that supported them.
What is most significant about this case is that it added more fuel to already hot discussions on illegal immigration. The past decade has seen much controversies dealing with the U.S. government’s proposals to curb illegal immigrant entry through the Mexican-American border, its attempts to address the growing drug trade and criticisms from international, as well as domestic, activists who claim that American procedures for handling illegal persons often violate internationally-recognized civil rights. While this commutation of the sentencing does not resolve these issues nor even touch the tip of iceberg, it does remind us that immigration reform should and does remain an important concern that Congress must address.