Still A Bad Idea

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The latest chapter in the unending and highly politicized saga of disgraced U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean is unfolding in a holding cell in the El Paso County Jail. That's where you'll find Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national who was recently arrested and charged with smuggling marijuana in the United States.

This is the same Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila who testified against Ramos and Compean at their trial in 2006. The two agents were convicted of shooting and wounding Aldrete-Davila along the U.S.-Mexico border and then covering it up by destroying evidence and falsifying reports.

The facts haven't changed. On Feb. 17, 2005, Ramos and Compean were on patrol on the border near Fabens, Texas, when they spotted a suspicious van. When they approached, they discovered Aldrete-Davila, who began running toward the Mexican side of the border. The agents opened fire. Aldrete-Davila said he was unarmed; Ramos and Compean said he had a gun.

The agents testified in their own defense, and a jury found them less than credible. A judge sentenced Ramos and Compean to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively.

The criminal case became a cause celebre for those who crusade against illegal immigration. Intense political pressure began to mount for a presidential pardon of the Border Patrol agents. In Congress, the cause was taken up by Republican Reps. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and California's Dana Rohrbacher, Brian Bilbray and Duncan Hunter, all of whom called on President Bush to pardon Ramos and Compean.

Bush sensibly refused, insisting that the judicial system be allowed to work. But now that Aldrete-Davila has been charged with drug smuggling, the pressure for a pardon is mounting again. Supporters of Ramos and Compean seem to be suggesting that new questions being raised about the credibility of Aldrete-Davila warrant a free pass for the two men he helped convict.

A presidential pardon was always a bad idea, and we have said so all along. President Bush is right. The system has to be allowed to work. That is why we have appellate courts where criminal defendants who feel they were unfairly convicted can plead their cases in hopes of having their convictions overturned. Those are the rules. And yet Ramos and Compean - not to mention their cheerleaders on talk radio and cable television - aren't interested in playing by the rules. Instead, they hope to short-circuit the process with a presidential pardon. That should not be allowed. If Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila is guilty of drug smuggling, then he belongs in a federal prison for many years to come. But that doesn't mean the same isn't true for Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean.

Reprinted from The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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