Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Republican House members yesterday asked President Bush to keep two U.S. Border Patrol agents out of prison pending their appeal of convictions for shooting a suspected drug smuggler in the buttocks as he fled into Mexico.

“Several discrepancies in the government’s case strongly question whether justice has been served, and permitting these men to be incarcerated in the interim puts their lives at risk,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

“We’re going to find out whose side you’re on … the American people or the side of our enemies,” Mr. Rohrabacher said in a reference to Mr. Bush. “If you let these two men go to jail for defending us, then we’ll know you’re on the side of our enemies.”

He was joined by Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Ted Poe of Texas, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

In lieu of a pardon, a letter petitioning Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was presented during the press conference asking the Justice Department to direct federal prosecutors not to oppose a motion filed in a Texas court to keep the agents free on bond during the appeals process.

Agents Ignacio Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, were sentenced in October in federal court in El Paso, Texas, to 11 and 12 years, respectively, for causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation.

A jury convicted the two agents in March after a two-week trial. They are scheduled to report to prison Wednesday. Compean and his wife, Patty, attended yesterday’s press conference.

“I urge Attorney General Gonzales to allow these men to go free on bail while the appeals process is under way,” Mr. Wilson said. “We must stand with our nation’s heroes — not the criminals who disregard our laws.

“Our border agents risk their lives daily to uphold our immigration laws and defend our borders,” he said. “If the conviction of Ramos and Compean is an indication of how our government will repay them, we can be certain good men and women will soon flee the ranks of Border Patrol service.”

Last month, Mr. Rohrabacher announced a petition drive calling for the commutation of the sentences for the two agents. His spokeswoman, Tara Setmayer, said yesterday the petition effort has garnered 220,000 signatures so far and will be presented to the president shortly.

Mr. Rohrabacher has called on Mr. Bush to “do the right thing and not allow the lives and families of these fine men to be destroyed.”

Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on any potential pardons. He directed inquiries to federal prosecutors.

The government brought the charges after Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national, agreed to testify against the agents in exchange for a grant of immunity in a possible drug case. Ramos and Compean found 743 pounds of marijuana in a van Mr. Aldrete-Davila abandoned near Fabens, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Aldrete-Davila was shot after he ignored efforts by the agents to stop the van. Court records show he jumped from the vehicle and ran south to the Rio Grande. Although wounded, Mr. Aldrete-Davila crossed the border and escaped in a waiting van.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.

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