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Commentary: Anti-immigrant mob creates false heroes

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- The world is upside down. A posse of Republican lawmakers who, when opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, like to talk about how rules must be followed and how we shouldn't reward lawbreakers. They're now demanding that a pair of convicted felons be rewarded with a presidential pardon.

Ex-Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos were sentenced to 12 years and 11 years in prison, respectively, after a jury convicted them of shooting an unarmed suspect and then covering it up.

It happened on February 17, 2005. That's when Compean and Ramos encountered a suspicious van along the Texas-Mexico border.

The driver, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, abandoned the vehicle and tried to run into Mexico. Aldrete-Davila was smuggling drugs, and the van was loaded with more than 700 pounds of marijuana.

Compean fired at least 14 rounds and Ramos fired once, hitting Aldrete-Davila. The agents then collected the shell casings, failed to report the shooting, and filed reports that made no mention of the incident.

None of this is heroic, except to the anti-immigrant mob, which has been making excuses for Compean and Ramos while accusing U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, whose office prosecuted the case, of being an agent of the Mexican government.

In recent months, the cause of Compean and Ramos has been picked up by anti-immigrant groups, congressional Republicans, Minuteman vigilantes and talk show hosts on radio and television.

Recently, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner admitted that officials in his office "misinformed" Republican members of Congress when they claimed to have proof that Compean and Ramos confessed their guilt and said that they "wanted to shoot some Mexicans" before the incident.

But what does all this have to do with the price of whiskey in West Texas? Not a thing. It was the U.S. attorney's office, and not the Homeland Security Department, that brought this case. So, unless federal prosecutors lied to the court or defense attorneys, there is no reason for a pardon.

I've spoken to Sutton twice in the last couple of weeks, and he didn't strike me as some wild-eyed prosecutor. He insists that a lot of what is out there is "overheated rhetoric" from the ill-informed.

Much of that rhetoric belongs to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, (or as he is aptly described in this case, Dana "off-his-rocker"). The congressman has said that President Bush could be impeached if either Ramos or Compean meets his demise in prison.

Another California Republican, Rep. Duncan Hunter has drafted a congressional resolution to grant a pardon for the convicted shooters and he "personally contacted" the Federal Bureau of Prisons to ask that the former agents be segregated from the general inmate population for their safety, according to his Web site.

As his name gets dragged through the mud, you'd think that Sutton might hold a grudge. Not so.

"I have a lot of sympathy for some of the folks who are worked up because the narrative that they read is so different from the reality of what the jury heard," Sutton told me.

But what about those unsympathetic Republican hacks, Minutemen vigilantes and conservative bloggers who are using this case to further their own agendas? For Sutton, it's a reminder that there is no substitute for the American justice system. While not perfect, that system is designed to dole out justice based on facts and law, not politics.

"It's why we litigate these things in a courtroom and not on cable television or the Internet," he said.

Be glad that's so.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.external link

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr: Hacks, vigilantes and bloggers are using the Border Patrol case to further their agendas.

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