Friday, January 19, 2007

The way the prosecution was carried out — the lengths that our government has gone through to prosecute two U.S. Border Patrol agents — is tremendously disconcerting.

Forthwith, the details of the case: A Mexican drug smuggler with 743 pounds of marijuana in a van confronted and assaulted a border Patrol agent in February 2005. The agents shot the suspect in the buttocks as he fled across the Rio Grande. The Homeland Security Department ordered an investigation and, after locating the suspect, presented him with an offer of immunity. Yes, immunity. In exchange, all the suspect, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, had to do was testify against the two agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean. The agents, 10- and five-year veterans, respectively, of the Border Patrol, were sentenced in October to a combined 23 years in prison. The drug smuggler was not charged.

Border Patrol agents, like all law enforcers, are not above the law, but in its zealous efforts to hold the conduct of Ramos and Compean up to scrutiny, the Justice Department made several deeply perturbing decisions. Why offer a suspected drug runner, who had already broken the law by entering our country illegally, immunity in exchange for his testimony against the two border patrol agents? The seriously misplaced priorities leave us thoroughly disappointed with the process.

President Bush on Thursday — the day after the agents began serving their prison sentences — promised a “sober look” at the case, but taking an honest, sober look at the situation on the border has not been a hallmark of the Bush administration. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, accurately summed up the situation: “Our border agents risk their lives daily to uphold our immigration laws and defend our borders,” Jerry Seper reported Thursday in The Washington Times. “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,” the congressman said.

While the president decides whether to grant a pardon, safety is a paramount concern for the two agents, now incarcerated while awaiting appeal. Prison is a dangerous place for former law enforcers, and special steps need to be taken to ensure no further harm comes to Ramos and Compean.

Such harsh — if not downright malicious — prosecution sends the wrong message to both agents and the entire U.S. Border Patrol. That message is that Border Patrol agents, our first line of defense along the southern border, should be more concerned with protecting themselves from future prosecution than with actively and earnestly carrying out their duties.

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