Dear Mr. Chairman and Senator Grassley,
I am writing on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to advise you of our strong support for S. 921, the “Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act,” and to urge the Committee on the Judiciary to consider it swiftly.
This legislation is broadly bipartisan and would undo a dangerous precedent set by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and clarify that Federal law clearly and unambiguously protects Federal law enforcement officers operating outside our national borders.
Shortly after 2:00pm on 15 February 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila were attacked at a roadblock near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, by hitmen sent by the Los Zetas drug cartel. These men attacked Agent Zapata and, while trying to extract him from the armored vehicle, shot him six times. Agent Avila, despite having been shot in the thigh and ankle, was able to raise the window of the armored SUV and call the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City for help. As Zapata laid dying in the driver’s seat, Avila pushed Zapata’s leg down on the accelerator to escape the attack but crashed through a truck blocking them, swerved across the road, and stalled in the median. The cartel’s assassins made one more pass at the agents, but their bullets were unable to pierce the vehicle’s armored exterior. In total, more than 100 rounds were fired at Agents Zapata and Avila. Agent Zapata died from his wounds, becoming the first U.S. Federal law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in Mexico since 1985.
Federal Courts across the country have recognized for years that, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1114, the United States government could prosecute anyone who killed or attempted to kill a Federal officer or employee while they were performing their official duties. In January 2020, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the murder convictions of two Los Zetas cartel assassins responsible for the heinous murder of ICE Agent Zapata and attempted murder of ICE Agent Avila. The Court concluded that Congress was not expressively clear that Section 1114 applies to crimes committed outside the United States.
This appalling decision is a horrendous miscarriage of justice and Congress, beginning with the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, should move swiftly to correct it. The families and friends of Agents Zapata and Avila deserve no less, and our Federal law enforcement officers operating outside the border of the United States need those protections. Without them, it is open season on these men and women who are fighting our nation’s most dangerous criminal threats.
Special Agent Jaime Zapata’s name is carved into the Wall of Remembrance at Judiciary Square and, on 15 May 2012, at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, his name was read aloud from the Roll Call of Honor. It seems only fitting that Congress should enact the legislation that bears his name as we get closer to the ninth anniversary of his supreme sacrifice.
On behalf of the more than 356,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I urge the Judiciary Committee to send this bill to the Senate floor. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or Executive Director Jim Pasco in our Washington office.