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AP Story Section

January 20, 2009

Bush commutes sentences of former U.S. border agents

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his final acts of clemency, President George W. Bush on Monday granted early prison releases to two former U.S. Border Patrol agents whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer fueled the national debate over illegal immigration.

Bush, responding to heavy pressure from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, commuted the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The two guards from El Paso, Texas, each were sentenced to more than 10 years for the shooting, which they tried to cover up. They will be released within two months.

Opposition to their convictions, sentencing and firings has simmered ever since the shooting occurred in 2005.

‘‘After four years of fighting this, it’s taken a toll on me and my daughter, and really the whole family,’’ said Joe Loya, Ramos’ father-in law, who has received tens of thousands of supportive e-mails and spent much of the past two years traveling the country to speak about the case. ‘‘We wouldn’t give up. ... I knew sooner or later God would come through — that finally it would happen.’’

He said his daughter, Monica Ramos, called from New York after learning the news that her husband soon would be released from a federal prison just outside Phoenix.

‘‘She could hardly speak,’’ Loya said.

The border agents’ case became a rallying cause for conservatives concerned about border protection. On talk shows, people sympathetic with the agents argued that the men were just doing their jobs, defending the U.S.-Mexico border against criminals.

Bob Baskett, Compean’s attorney in Dallas, cited widespread congressional support from the bipartisan congressional delegation from Texas. ‘‘I think the president did the right thing,’’ he said. ‘‘An awful lot of people did an awful lot of work to get this done.’’

David Botsford, a lawyer for Ramos in Austin, Texas, said he had been guardedly optimistic that the commutations would be granted because of the support from Congress and the thousands of people who had sent letters of concern. The president has shown ‘‘he’s a compassionate man,’’ Botsford said.

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