JANUARY 19, 2007
The day after two U.S. Border Patrol agents reported to prison to begin serving lengthy sentences for intercepting a Mexican drug smuggler, a Republican congressman introduced a bill to pardon them.
The Constitution grants only the president the authority to pardon those convicted of crimes and George W. Bush has so far refused to pardon the agents, although he did pardon 14 criminals recently, including several drug dealers and a man convicted for bombing a coal mine.
This led California Congressman Duncan Hunter to introduce a law, named after the two agents, which will undoubtedly test congressional powers on the issue of pardons. Calling the convictions an extreme injustice, the El Cajon lawmaker said that the case demoralizes our nation’s Border Patrol and sends a clear message that we are not serious about protecting our borders and enforcing our immigration laws.
The agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, were guarding the Mexican border near El Paso Texas in February 2005 when they intercepted a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana. The admitted drug smuggler, an illegal alien named Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, tried to flee and one of the agents shot him in the buttocks though he still got away.
Federal prosecutors actually went to Mexico and offered the drug dealer immunity to testify against the Border Patrol agents who were subsequently convicted on charges of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm and violating the drug smuggler’s civil rights. The agents were sentenced to 11 and 12-year prison terms.
Many lawmakers from both parties were outraged and the White House received at least 50 requests for presidential pardons from members of Congress, but the pleas fell on deaf ears. The Constitution lists only one limitation on who the president can pardon; the impeached. Otherwise, the president can grant it to whomever he desires although there is a process that includes the Office of the Pardon Attorney General at the Department of Justice. The president may also grant commutations of sentences, remissions of fines and reprieves.
Evidently, Bush is feeling some of the heat and expressed in an interview this week that he may consider pardoning the agents before he leaves office. The president agreed to take a “tough look at the facts.”
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