CUELLAR INTRODUCES BILL NAMED AFTER ICE SPECIAL AGENT JAIME ZAPATA
Reduces border violence, increases inter-agency collaboration
Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX 28) announced that he has introduced the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Act of 2011, H.R. 915, named after ICE special agent Jaime Zapata. The bill would enhance border security and reduce security threats by authorizing and appropriating funds for law enforcement units on the border.
“I named this bill after ICE Agent Jaime Zapata out of respect for his service to our country and because he paid the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and security of us all,” Congressman Cuellar said. “I will push to move this bill through the legislative process in honor of his work, dedication and commitment to serving the United States of America in the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.
“When it comes to maintaining border security, collaboration and cooperation are key. These BEST units can reduce border violence by improving information sharing between federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies,” Cuellar said.
BEST units may be comprised of Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and other law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, tribal, local and international level. The units will have authority to investigate, apprehend and prosecute individuals engaged in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, human smuggling and trafficking, violence and kidnapping along borders.
The bill, co-sponsored by Congressman Michael McCaul (TX 10), would also give Congress the ability to oversee authorization and appropriation of funds for the units, which previously was under the purview of the DHS.
“As Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, I believe it is important that Congress has the ability to fund BEST units, so that they can continue to be successful combating border crime while cooperating and sharing information with federal, state, tribal, local and international agencies,” Congressman Cuellar said.
"The BEST teams have been one of the success stories of the efforts to secure the border as the cartels have risen in power and become more violent," said Congressman McCaul, Chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. "Agent Zapata died fighting this war on the front lines and I think it is appropriate that this coordinated effort bears his name."
The first BEST team was based in Laredo. ICE establishes BEST units 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. DHS/ICE will annually report on the effectiveness of the BEST as measured by crime statistics, to include violent deaths, incidents of violence, and drug related arrests.
In July 2005, ICE, in partnership with CBP, 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, DHS formally adopted the BEST initiative as a DHS 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 referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security, which Congressman Cuellar is a member of. 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. The two ICE agents were traveling between Mexico City and Monterrey. Special Agent Zapata succumbed to his injuries, living in the southwest border his entire life. Special Agent Avila was shot is now recovering.