At least 70 Republican Congress members are co-sponsoring a House resolution ordering that the convictions and sentences of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean be vacated and that they be released from custody immediately.

Even after suggestions last week that President Bush plans to review the Ramos and Compean case, the White House has continued reaching out for support to several prominent conservatives who, so far, are rebuffing administration requests to back the Justice Department on this case.

The resolution, H.R. 563, is being introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

Despite public suggestions to the contrary, the White House on background has continued indicating to prominent national conservative leaders that their heels are dug in on this case, denying at this point any plan to pardon the agents. Some critics contend the Bush administration’s open border policy is behind its unwillingness to defend Ramos and Compean.

White House talking points continue to stress themes articulated by prosecuting U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in El Paso, who in an exclusive interview last week with WND claimed the two agents “shot 15 times at an unarmed, fleeing man,” after which the agents “decided to lie about it, cover it up, destroy the evidence, pick up all the shell casings and throw them away where we couldn’t find them, destroy the crime scene and then file a false report.”

In a series of briefings with conservative leaders prior to the State of the Union message scheduled for this evening, the White House indicated that while the issue of immigration will be mentioned, it will not be a major theme. The president is expected to repeat his support of a “comprehensive immigration reform” plan that would include a guest worker program, prefacing re-introduction of legislation similar to the bill co-sponsored in the previous Congress by Sens. Edward Kennedy D-Mass., and John McCain R-Ariz.

While the speech is expected to sound the theme of border security, the president is not expected to give a commitment that the administration will press Congress to appropriate all the funds needed to build the full 770-mile double-layered fence Congress approved in a Sept. 29 vote just prior to the mid-term elections. Instead, the president is expected to emphasis electronic means to secure a virtual border and what the White House believes has been recent success slowing the number of “OTMs,” or “Other Than Mexicans,” who illegally cross the southern border.

President Bush has no plans to mention the Ramos and Compean case in the State of the Union speech.

In a press release issued on the introduction of H.R. 563, Hunter said, “Agents Ramos and Compean fulfilled their responsibilities as Border Patrol agents and rightfully pursued a suspected and fleeing drug smuggler. It is irresponsible to punish them with jail time.”

Joe Kasper, communications director and legislative assistant for Hunter, explained to WND the Ramos and Compean case “creates a chilling effect on current border agents who will now be reluctant to do their duty on the border when they know that fellow officers have been given jail time for trying to stop a Mexican drug dealer from escaping back to Mexico.”

Kasper told WND the “facts of this case are so nebulous that the case represents a severe injustice. Agents Ramos and Compean felt threatened and acted appropriately to apprehend the individual. At most, an administrative punishment is required but certainly not 11- and 12-year federal prison sentences.”

Kasper noted additional congressmen are calling the office to add their names as co-sponsors. He said Hunter is also reaching out to Democratic congressmen known to be sympathetic.

In addition to introducing H.R. 563, Hunter wrote a letter to Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, requesting that Ramos and Compean be separated from the general prison population to ensure their safety.

“These agents and their families have already received threats against their safety,” Hunter wrote Lappin. “Therefore, it must be assumed that once they are required to mingle in general population with the very drug smugglers and felons they helped apprehend their security will be compromised.”

Hunter’s office told WND that readers were encouraged to call their congressmen, both Republicans and Democrats, asking that they co-sponsor H.R. 563.

The resolution, if passed, would represent a congressional pardon, an unusual procedure given that criminal pardons typically are considered only within the constitutional purview of the president. A legal analysis provided WND by Hunter’s office argues that the pardon power is not constitutionally vested exclusively in the president but may also be exercised by Congress.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to provide a statement to WND about the resolution.

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