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BILL NAMED AFTER ICE AGENT ONE STEP CLOSER TO BECOMING FEDERAL LAW
Legislation would reduce border violence and increase interagency collaboration heads for full vote before the U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, Sep 21 -
Today, the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Act of 2011, H.R. 915, named after ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Jaime Zapata, was voted out of the House Homeland Security Committee and is expected to be considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, which was voted out of the full committee with bipartisan support, would enhance border security and reduce security threats by authorizing and appropriating funds for law enforcement units on the border.
“Our country lost ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata in the line of duty, and out of respect for his service to America, I found it proper and fitting to file legislation that would enhance border security operations on our borders and name it after an American hero—Jaime Zapata,” Congressman Cuellar said. “This bill was voted out of the full committee today and is one step closer to becoming federal law. Through this bill, not only would we honor the work of ICE Special Agent Zapata, but we would also provide the needed resources and funds to secure our communities.”
In March 2009, the Administration launched the Southwest Border Initiative in response to a prominent surge in southern border violence associated with Mexican drug cartels and transnational criminal organizations. Under this initiative, ICE has doubled the personnel assigned to BESTs. Currently, there are 22 BESTs with locations around the U.S. and in Mexico. BESTs are comprised of federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement personnel from counterparts such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Transportation and Security Administration, National Guard, U.S. Secret Service, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices.
“I will continue my best efforts to move this bill through the legislative process in honor of ICE Special Agent Zapata’s commitment, work and sacrifice while serving the United States of America as a federal agent,” Cuellar said.
In FY 2010, ICE-led BESTs made 1,710 criminal arrests and 959 administrative arrests, which resulted in 1,107 indictments and 858 convictions. Thus far in FY 2011, ICE-led BESTs have made 1,887 criminal arrests and 997 administrative arrests that have resulted in 910 indictments and 853 convictions.
“Border security continues to be a major issue for me and I will continue to do all I can through my committee assignment on the House Homeland Security Committee as well as through my work with the various federal law enforcement agencies to provide families and those living on the border peace of mind in knowing that the federal government is doing its part in ensuring their safety,” Congressman Cuellar said. “I also thank Congressman King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Congressman Thompson, Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, for their work in moving this bill forward.”
The bill, co-sponsored by Congressman Michael McCaul (TX-10), would codify BESTs and give Congress the ability to oversee authorization and appropriation of funds for the units, which previously was under the scope of the Department of Homeland Security.
“The BEST teams are an integral part of our strategy to stop the southbound flow of cash and weapons that fund and arm the cartels. I can't think of a more fitting way to honor Agent Zapata than to add his name to our efforts to secure the border,” Congressman McCaul said.
The first BEST team was based in Laredo. Immigration and Customs Enforcement establishes BEST locations based on which areas are significantly impacted by border threats, the availability of law enforcement to participate, and the extent to which the threats are harmfully impacting the area. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will annually report on the effectiveness of BESTs as measured by crime statistics, to include violent deaths, incidents of violence, and drug related arrests.
In July 2005, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in partnership with Customs and Border Protection, as well as other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement officials expanded its ongoing Border Crimes Initiative by creating a multi-agency initiative called Operation Blackjack (predecessor to the BEST), to address the increased violence along the southwest border with Mexico.
In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security formally adopted the BEST initiative as a Department of Homeland Security task force in order to leverage federal, state, local, tribal and foreign law enforcement and intelligence resources in an effort to identify, disrupt, and dismantle organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities along the U.S. borders and threaten the overall safety and security of the American public.
The BEST Act of 2011 has been voted out of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which Congressman Cuellar is a member of. It now heads for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also serves as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, which has direct jurisdiction over border security.
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. The two ICE agents were traveling between Mexico City and Monterrey. Special Agent Zapata succumbed to his injuries. He lived on the southwest border his entire life. Special Agent Avila was shot and has now recovered.