The President is within striking distance of another great opportunity.
Let’s hope he doesn’t miss it this time around.
The opportunity is actually two-fold, wherein he can advance the cause of justice, and convey something important to American citizens, all at the same time.
Bush is being asked to commute the sentences of two former U.S. Border Patrol Agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, both of whom are in prison and serving 11 and 12 year sentences, respectively.
Their crimes include shooting an unarmed man while on duty (the suspect was fleeing from them), and then covering up the evidence of their shooting. These were serious offenses, no doubt, and nobody has suggested that they should go completely un-punished.
Over the past 14 months or so, the story of Ramos and Compean has been kept alive by some diligent internet bloggers; Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA); some periodic coverage from cable tv news outlets; and perhaps most notably, talk radio’s highly influential “ John and Ken Show” at KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles.
But now the “news” of Ramos and Compean has become much more high-profile, given that Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) brought the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. After a review, the committee members expressed strong disapproval of how the cases of Ramos and Compean were handled, and now Feinstein and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) have sent a letter to the President requesting that he commute the sentences.
The actions of Ramos and Compean were obviously wrong. However, the details surrounding the shooting only make Americans more angry and bitter about the ways in which their government is, and is not, dealing with illegal immigration.
The suspect, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, had crossed the border and entered into Texas illegally one day back in February of 2005. Aldrete-Davila fled from Ramos and Compean both in a vehicle and on foot, and as it turned out, he was smuggling marijuana into the United States in his van.
The legal details are complicated. But as the story becomes more widely reported, three simple ideas resonate with American media consumers: alien enters United States illegally smuggling drugs; alien gets shot by Border Patrol Agents; Border Patrol Agents go to prison for shooting.
In short, the story of Ramos and Compean, to the average observer, smacks of the same kind of injustice as do the countless stories of Border Patrol Agents being fire-bombed and assaulted and shot at themselves; and the stories of illegal aliens bankrupting public services in the United States; and the stories of American law enforcement agents being left powerless to do anything at all with the “federal” problem of illegal immigration.
And this is why President Bush has a tremendous opportunity. By commuting the sentences of Ramos and Compean, Bush can rectify a flawed court decision that a bi-partisan contingency in the Senate has determined to be highly problematic. But he can also demonstrate to the American people that he is not completely clueless as to how bitter and angry they have become over our government’s unwillingness to take a strong, law-and-order stand on illegal immigration.
For much of his second term, Bush (and other members of his administration) has repeatedly failed to accurately assess the attitudes and perceptions held by the American people, on a variety of key domestic issues. This problem of communication has been especially costly with respect to immigration reform.
For example, consider what did and did not happen in 2006. As illegal immigrants’ rights activists repeatedly staged traffic-stopping demonstrations in large cities throughout the country, waving the Mexican flag and publicly arguing for “amnesty,” the President seemed to have no sense that American citizens were becoming enraged by the social disruption, and kept right on talking about providing “pathways to citizenship” and “worker visas.” At the same time, Bush chose to say nothing at all about the increasing reports of violence and vandalism against American people and property at the U.S. / Mexico border.
This year, Bush has continued his pattern of saying nothing about these assaults on American lives, property, and sensibilities. Even as the Senate debated the “comprehensive immigration reform bill,” news emerged that border crossers and smugglers had begun setting arson fires in Arizona national forest lands as a means of “smoking out” border patrol operations. But Bush remained silent about it, choosing instead to chastise Americans who were “standing in the way of progress” by opposing his bill.
The President famous for saying that we are “hunting down the terrorists and bringing them to justice,” now needs to provide an added measure of justice to Ramos and Compean. To do so, might be a first step towards reassuring Americans that he’s serious about combating the terrorism we face regularly in our own backyard.