Bush's Commutation Of Trigger-Happy Border Patrol Guards' Sentences a Final Slap in the Face

TUSCON, Ariz. -- On his last full day in office, ex-president Bush chose to commute the sentences of ex-border patrol officers Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. They had been convicted of shooting a Mexican man in the buttocks, covering up the evidence and lying about the shooting. The shooting took place as Osvaldo Aldrete Davila was fleeing across the border into Mexico near El Paso, Texas.

With a stroke of his pen, Bush gave the Mexican and migrant community a message: "Kiss my buttocks." The controversial commutations were ripe with symbolism. They took place hours before Bush went back to Texas and hours before President Barack Obama was sworn in.

Bush's commutation means that they will be released in March. However, by not granting them full pardons, Ramos's and Compean's convictions will forever stand.

The greater symbolism was that this was Bush's parting shot, his last official act in office. It was vintage Bush --  pleasing no one in the process. He claimed that the trials were fair, but that the sentences were excessive. They had already served two years of their 11- and 12-year sentences, respectively.

The officers had been a cause célèbre for the nation's anti-immigrant movement. As a result, they are dancing in the desert or wherever it is that anti-immigrants dance. At the same time, they aren’t fully satisfied because they had campaigned for full pardons. The Mexican government is also not pleased because Bush’s action legitimizes the idea of "frontier justice," in which Mexicans, American Indians and blacks are still deemed less than human.

To Ramos's and Compean's supporters, the officers had simply been doing their job when they shot a drug dealer. It doesn't matter that they violated the law and the code of ethics of the U.S. Border Patrol and that they were convicted in a court of law and that their convictions were upheld on appeal. To the anti-immigrant movement, the person shot was actually not a person, but "scum."

For eight years, Bush promised compassionate immigration reform. What he delivered instead was draconian law enforcement actions aimed primarily against Mexican and Central American migrants, sans the daily anti-immigrant rhetoric of CNN's Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck. What he delivered was the further militarization of the border, youth detention centers, kangaroo courts and private prisons.

Bush may not have been as shrill as former Colo. Rep. Tom Tancredo, but his inaction on reform, plus his emphasis on massive immigration raids and walls along the border certainly helped to stoke the anti-immigrant movement -- a movement that the well-respected Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project closely monitors as it is ripe with racial supremacists and right-wing hate-extremists.

Despite Bush's calls for humane reforms, he wasn’t strong enough to repel the anti-immigrant activists within his own party. These activists, incidentally, continue to behave as though their side won the election, evidenced by their demands that the new president adhere to their fear and hate-based agenda.

Unquestionably, Barack Obama does not share their dehumanizing and demonizing agenda. On the day after Obama's inauguration, Rev. Sharon Watkins, at the National Prayer Service, in effect, reiterated Obama's vision of a new world. She prodded Obama to set a new civil tone for the nation, invoking the last lines of Emma Lazarus famous poem, The New Colossus, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … "

Perhaps it's actually a return to an old tone, one of hope over fear, a tone that Obama is fully embracing. For those fighting for humane solutions, it's a welcome embrace.


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