The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday told the parents, friends and associates of slain ICE Agent Jaime Zapata that the U.S. and Mexican governments would “bring the long arm of the law down” on the drug smugglers who killed him and wounded his partner Victor Avila.
“Together we will look after our people. Together we will continue to see that Jaime and Victor’s work is done and that the rule of law triumphs over lawlessness and empty violence. There is no other way. Acquiescing to the rule of criminals consigns our children, Mexico’s children to a hopeless and empty path,” ICE Director John Morton said during a funeral Mass for the slain agent in Brownsville, Texas, attended by hundreds of mourners.
“My friends: no retreat, no compromise. Our cause is just, our cause is right, there is no other way,” Mr. Morton said.
Agent Zapata, 32, and Agent Avila were ambushed Feb. 15 on a major highway in the state of San Luis Potosi in Mexico, purportedly attacked by members of the Los Zetas drug cartel. Agent Zapata was shot five times and died en route to a hospital.
Agent Avila, who was transported back to the U.S. for treatment and to recover at home, was shot in the legs. Both agents were assigned to ICE’s attache office in Mexico City.
Neither of the agents was armed, as the Mexican government does not authorize U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons in that country.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also spoke at the funeral Mass, both saying the U.S. was determined to see that those responsible for Agent Zapata’s death would be identified, captured and brought to justice.
The Mass was held at the Brownsville Events Center, and Agent Zapata’s flag-draped coffin was placed in front of the altar. More than 1,000 people attended, including wheelchair-bound Agent Avila, who placed a flower on his partner’s casket during graveside burial ceremonies.
Mr. Morton, in an emotional speech, described Agent Zapata as a man who had followed his father, Amador, into a career of law enforcement — “a career not of riches but of service and sacrifice; a career of protecting people and their communities from criminals; a career of putting himself in harm’s way for the benefit of others.”
He said the agent died “a long, long way from home” and described the killing as “a dark moment — an unspeakable loss for his parents, for his four brothers, for his fiancee Stacye. It was also a dark day for ICE and all of Jaime’s fellow agents and officers.
“I submit to you, however, that as dark as this moment is, Jaime’s life is really all about light. Everyone in this room will eventually meet his or her Maker, and the real question on that day won’t be how we died but how we lived. When it’s my turn, I want to say that I lived like Jaime,” he said.
“I want to say that I fought like Jaime for what was right, what was decent, what was good. I want to say that I treated others like Jaime did — standing by my friends and family through thick and thin; more concerned about others than myself,” he said. “I want to say that I had a purpose like Jaime did — wanting to make a difference in this world; believing in my agency and its mission; doing my job with integrity.”
Agent Zapata joined ICE in 2006 and was assigned to the office of the deputy special agent in charge in Laredo, Texas, where he served on the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit as well as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force.
He began his federal law enforcement career as a member of the U.S. Border Patrol in Yuma, Ariz. A native of Brownsville, Agent Zapata graduated from the University of Texas at Brownsville in 2005 with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice.
Agent Avila joined ICE in 2004 and was assigned to the field office in El Paso, Texas, where he served on the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit as well as with the Financial/Asset Forfeiture Unit. Before joining ICE in 2004, Agent Avila was a federal probation officer.