I've been following the case of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean for awhile, the Border Patrol Agents who shot an unarmed Mexican and became worshipped by the anti-immigrant right in the media storm that followed. Today I've finally come across a story that does justice to the soap opera's fascinating twists and turns. Posted by Salon, "The Ballad of Ramos and Compean: How the Anti-Immigration Right -- and Lou Dobbs -- Turned Two Rogue Border Patrol Agents Into Heroes and Got Congress On Their Side," is a must-read.
The facts are as follows: During a patrol near El Paso, Texas, the two Mexican American agents came across a real Mexican named Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila driving a truck just inside the U.S. border. The agents give chase. It ends 120 yards from the Rio Grande when the Mexican abandons his vehicle to dash back to the safety of the Motherland. Agent Compean stops Aldrete-Davila, Compean raises the barrel of his shotgun to hit the guy -- who has his arms raised in the air to surrender -- when the Agent trips himself and falls down a gully. Aldrete-Davila takes the opportunity to flee. Ramos and Compean fire 15 shots on the unarmed man running away. They hit the guy in the ass, literally. The wounded Mexican limps back to the safety of the other side. The agents cover up the shooting by picking up their spent casings, asking a third agent to pick up any empty shells they missed, and when Compean and Ramos get back to headquarters, they never report on the incident.
A month later the truth comes out. A Republican federal attorney appointed by George Bush looks at the facts of the case and decides to prosecute Ramos and Compean on seven and nine counts, respectively, of assault with intent to commit murder. Fellow agents testify against them. And while it's now reported that the Mexican guy was smuggling Marijuana into the U.S. -- a fact the agents didn't know when they shot him -- and despite the defense's spin of noble Agents protecting Americans from evil drug smugglers, a jury convicts the two. They are sentenced to 11 and 12 years.
For the prosecutors and the jury, the shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila near Fabens, Texas, was a clearly unlawful use of force. But the conviction of Ramos and Compean was just the beginning of the agents' story. Within months, they had become the center of a dubious political crusade that would energize the furthest reaches of the right, dominate one of CNN's most popular news programs [Lou Dobbs], and persuade a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives -- and one prominent Democratic senator -- to reject the findings of a federal court.
With the help of reporters and activists promoting -- and embellishing -- the defense's version of the case, the two convicted agents were transformed into martyrs for the battle against illegal immigration. Instead of rogue officers who shot a fleeing, unarmed suspect and then lied about it, they became stand-up cops who were forced to shoot an armed drug dealer and then sent to prison by a legal system run amok. After they went to prison in January 2007, they even became the tragic heroes of a country song called "Ramos and Compean."
Nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition demanding a presidential pardon for the agents. There are two bills to pardon them pending in Congress, one with more than 100 cosponsors, including five Democrats.
Of course the first clue as to the dubious nature of the Agent's version of events is the fact that Ramos and Compean became the subject of a country and western song, and not a corrido. Gregorio Cortez these guys are not.
And, second, as great as the Salon piece is, what's absent in any analysis I've read so far is any inquiry into one particular layer of complexity: that of Mexican American agents shooting a Mexican. Despite the fantasies of Lou Dobbs and the Minutemen, the U.S. Mexico border is a wonderfully messy place. What Americo Paredes called Greater Mexico, it's a place where an arbitrary line on a map may divide a region legally, but does nothing to separate a shared cultura. Take, for instance, how the cover-up by Ramos and Compean was blown. The Mexican mother of Aldrete-Davila, the guy shot by the agents, called her comadre over en el otro lado, who happened to be the mother-in-law of another Mexican American Border Patrol Agent. Hearing the chisme from his Mother-in-Law the guy then calls Homeland Security, which sets the whole case in motion.
Equally fascinating is the fact that the nativist, right-wing, primarily white, anti-immigrant propaganda machine have chosen to exploit one set of brown guys in their fight against their true enemy, the larger set of brown guys, women, and children crossing over into the U.S. And as the Salon piece points out, a key figure in the transformation of Ramos and Compean from cops trying to cover up a bad shooting into poster boys for the anti-immigrant right lies with another brown guy, Andy Ramirez, is the chairman of the California-based Friends of the Border Patrol, "a Minutemen-like organization." Talk about Brown on Brown facilitated by Brown crime. And even more crazy about this complex case? Perennial Wet Burrito Award winner and GOP flack Ruben Navarette Jr. and I agree on something.
As Jr. wrote in a recent column, Ramos and Compean "took the stand in their own defense, and yet the jury that convicted them apparently found their testimony to be less credible than that of the drug dealer. Bet you won't hear that from the members of the Ramos and Compean Fan Club. That's why they have no credibility. And members of Congress who buy into their narrative – of hero agents who were railroaded into prison – risk their credibility as well."
Except for the inflamatory rhetorical device of reducing victim Aldrete-Davila to nothing more than"drug dealer," I couldn't agree with Jr. more.