New law better protects federal officers abroad, holds accountable those who harm them

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President Joe Biden signed the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, at the White House. U.S> Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, the bill’s sponsor, was in attendance. (Photo from Henry Cuellar’s Office)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A new law allows the U.S. prosecution of foreign nationals who harm American federal officers who are stationed abroad, or south of the border.

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act, brought in part due to the death of an agent who had been stationed on the border in South Texas.

The bill is named after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were attacked on Feb. 15, 2011, by Mexican drug cartels in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Zapata — who had been stationed in Laredo, Texas, at the time — died from his injuries.

Arrests were made, however last year a federal appeals court dismissed the murder convictions on the basis that the district court did not have jurisdiction over the crimes committed against law enforcement stationed overseas.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX (Cuellar Photo)

The new law stipulates that federal officers and federal employees serving internationally are protected and that the U.S. Department of Justice may try their attackers in federal court.

This “will provide assurances that anyone who attempts to harm a federal agent can be brought to justice in a U.S. courtroom. We must continue to provide all necessary support to our federal agents no matter where they are called to serve,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report on Friday.

Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, co-sponsored the legislation and attended Thursday’s White House signing ceremony.

Other legislation sponsors included: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, both Republicans from Texas.

“No matter where federal law enforcement officers are called to serve, they know that their oath to protect our nation extends beyond American soil,” Cornyn said in a statement. “This new law will ensure federal officers and employees serving internationally have the protection of the laws they have been sworn to defend by closing a loophole which will deliver justice and honor their courageous service.”

Said Cuellar on Friday: “This is a strong message that the United States will not tolerate acts of violence against its law enforcement or any other federal employee serving abroad.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.

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