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Minuteman supporter lauds Bush decision on agents

Outgoing president commutes sentences

Posted: January 19, 2009 9:13 p.m.
Updated: January 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A Santa Clarita Valley Minuteman supporter lauded President George W. Bush for commuting the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, former U.S. Border Patrol agents convicted for shooting a Mexican drug dealer.

"We're exhilarated that Bush, on his last day in office, has decided to commute the sentences of Ramos and Compean," said Roger Gitlin, who organized a Minuteman rally in Santa Clarita in June 2008.

"Unfortunately, he could not pardon them because of the rules and regulations regarding pardons," Gitlin said. "People who are convicted of such crimes have to serve a sentence of five years ... that's why they weren't pardoned."

Republican and Democratic members of Congress argued the agents were merely doing their jobs, defending the American border against criminals.

"We're thrilled for the Ramos and Compean families who now have their loved ones back with them," Gitlin said. "I'm happy that Bush decided these men have suffered enough.

"I personally consider Ramos and Compean to be true American heroes. They worked to protect our border and they deserve our praise, not our indignation."

The debate spurred a "Honor America/Secure our Border" rally of more than 200 local residents, activists and members of the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys' Minutemen, led by Gitlin outside the Santa Clarita Valley Civic Center in June 2008.

Supporters voiced their concerns about illegal immigration and support for Ramos during the rally.

Santa Clarita Valley Democrat and recent state assembly candidate Carole Lutness supported Bush's move but said there are bigger issues involved.

"As long as agri-business controls our borders the INS will not be fully funded," Lutness said. "Because of that, we have no real green card system that would allow us to monitor and track who is admitted to this country. Therefore vicious criminals can slip in because INS does not have the manpower to guard our borders."

Bush didn't pardon the men for their crimes, but decided instead to commute their sentences because he believed they were excessive and that they had already suffered the loss of their jobs, freedom and reputations, a senior administration official said.

The agents were fired after their convictions on several charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon and with serious bodily injury, violation of civil rights and obstruction of justice. All their convictions, except obstruction of justice, were upheld on appeal.

Ramos and Compean were sentenced to 12 years and 11 years in prison, respectively. They each also were fined $2,000 and sentenced to three years of supervised release. Under the terms of Bush's commutation, their prison sentences will expire on March 20, but their three-year terms of supervised release and the fines will remain intact.

"The Minutemen are a neighborhood watch group that helps the government secure the border for contraband, drugs and human traffic," said Gitlin. "It also brings attention to the illegal immigration problem that is besetting all communities in our country, including Santa Clarita, and asks the government to enforce immigration laws."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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