Reps. McCaul, Cuellar, King Introduce Bill to Ensure the Safety and Security of Federal Officers and Employees Overseas

May 20, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. –  U.S. Representatives Michael McCaul (TX-10), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Peter King (NY-02) introduced H.R. 6864, the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation ensures that individuals who harm or attempt to harm U.S. Federal officers and employees serving abroad can be brought to justice and prosecuted in the United States. Furthermore, the bill improves safety and security of federal officers and employees, while overseas, by ensuring crimes against those Americans serving abroad, can be prosecuted by United States Courts.

“Almost 10 years have passed since Mexican Cartels ambushed law enforcement officers Jamie Zapata and Victor Avila while they were on duty in Mexico,” said Congressman McCaul. “The attack resulted in the death of Special Agent Zapata and life-threatening injuries to Special Agent Avila. In the 10 years since the attack, I have gotten to know Victor Avila and the family of Jamie Zapata and have worked tirelessly to help them find justice.

"Unfortunately, earlier this year, an appeals court threw out the conviction for the cartel members for the murder of Special Agent Zapata because it was claimed that Congress was not clear that the underlying law applied to crimes committed outside the United States despite previous cases suggesting the contrary, this bill closes any ambiguity in the law,” Congressman McCaul continued. “The Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act honors the service of both Zapata and Avila and would ensure that anyone who committed a violent act against a law enforcement officer overseas is brought to justice. This is sending a strong message that the United States will not tolerate acts of violence against its citizens or law enforcement.”

“ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata's murder will not be brought to justice because of a loophole in current law,” said Congressman Cuellar. “I introduced this bipartisan legislation to close this loophole and ensure the safety of all federal employee serving our nation abroad. There must be severe consequences brought to bear against individuals who harm Federal employees here in the U.S. or wherever they are assigned. I am committed to honoring the heroism of Special Agents Zapata and Avila by holding those who commit violence towards Americans serving our great country legally accountable.”

“I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation which not only honors the heroic efforts of ICE Special Agents Zapata and Avila but ensures that any violence committed against a law enforcement officer overseas is brought to justice,” said Congressman King. 
On February 15, 2011, ICE Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were ambushed by members of Mexican drug cartels in San Luis Potosi, Mexico; Special Agent Zapata succumbed to his injuries. While his killers were apprehended, earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the murder conviction for all defendants in the case because Congress was not expressly clear that 18 U.S.C. § 1114 applies to crimes committed overseas. The court therefore reversed the conviction of members of a violent drug cartel that murdered federal law enforcement officers Jaime Zapata and attempted to murder Victor Avila while they were serving in Mexico. The Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act will ensure that federal law clearly and unequivocally protects federal officers and employees serving overseas.
Senators John Cornyn and Chris Coons are leading the bill in the Senate, with Senators Tom Cotton and Patrick Leahy as co-sponsors. The bill is endorsed by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the American Foreign Service Association, the FBI Agents Association, Women in Federal Law Enforcement, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, National District Attorneys Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association.
In 2012, Congressman Cuellar’s H.R. 915 - Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Act of 2011 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote of 391-2.  H.R. 915, for the first time, statutorily authorized and codified the BEST program.  BEST units are inter-agency teams comprised of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies designed to combat cross-border crime by promoting coordinated efforts and information-sharing among federal, state and local border and law enforcement officials. 
To view H.R. 6864 online, click here.