Nativists Make Heroes of Border Shooters

Nativist Extremism
Chris Simcox

Border Patrol agents Ignacio "Nacho" Ramos and José Alonso Compean attacked an unarmed border-crosser who was trying to surrender, shot at him 15 times and wounded him as he fled, then tampered with the crime scene and failed to report the shooting as required to their supervisors. For their crimes, a federal court in Texas sentenced the men last year to terms of 11 and 12 years in prison.

Now, courtesy of the nativist movement, they are heroes.

Lou Dobbs, the CNN anchor obsessed with undocumented immigration, has featured their case at least 131 times, including a one-hour special, according to the September issue of Texas Monthly. They've been glorified by anti-immigration websites and lionized by politicians like U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). Even the American Freedom Riders, a nativist biker gang, calls them "persecuted."

Why are so many associated with the law-and-order right singing the praises of these two felons? Because the man who was shot turned out later to have been part of a marijuana-smuggling operation. Ramos and Compean didn't know that at the time — the man was on foot and tried to surrender, and the agents only found the drugs in a van after he managed to flee on foot back to Mexico, badly wounded. Dobbs describes the officers as "these two outstanding Border Patrol agents."

Dobbs, along with many others, thinks they should go free.

Rival Minutemen leaders Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist were both at a Sept. 8 fundraiser for Ramos' family that was hosted by the American Freedom Riders. More than $38,000 was contributed and over 400 people attended to show their "absolute disdain for [President] Bush's 'dear friend' Johnny Satan" — a reference to prosecutor Johnny Sutton, the highly conservative U.S. attorney who had worked for Bush in Texas and Washington. Others, like Dobbs, have also savaged Sutton.

Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and John Culberson (Texas) have even claimed that the agents are suffering prison conditions "far worse than those of suspected terrorists being held" at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

What no one has offered is any proof that the two are innocent.

Now, the nativist fervor is expanding to others similarly situated — in particular, Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett, who last January shot dead Mexican construction worker Francisco Javier Dominguez-Rivera a few yards north of the border. Corbett claimed he shot in self-defense after being threatened with a rock, but forensic and video evidence, along with accounts of several witnesses detained with Dominguez-Rivera, contradicted him, suggesting instead that the worker was shot without provocation after he was forced to kneel directly in front of Corbett. Corbett faces trial on second-degree murder charges in February.

Anti-immigration activists claim Corbett is being railroaded due to pressure from Mexico. In October, the American Freedom Riders rallied to support him, describing him as "another agent charged with murder for doing his job."