- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2011

A rosary service will be held Monday night at the Brownsville, Texas, Events Center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata, who was fatally shot last week reportedly by members of the brutal Los Zetas drug cartel during an ambush on a major highway 230 miles north of Mexico City.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for Tuesday morning, also at the Brownsville Events Center, followed by a procession to the Rose Lawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Brownsville, where the agent will be buried.

Zapata, 32, who was detailed to ICE’s attache office at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City from his post in Laredo, Texas, was mortally wounded during the daylight attack, which occurred in the northern state of San Luis Potosi on Mexico’s major highway between Mexico City and Monterrey.

During the 2:30 p.m. attack near the town of Santa Maria Del Rio, ICE Special Agent Victor Avila also was shot, twice in the leg. He later was transported to the U.S. and is in stable condition.

U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities said the two agents were southbound on the four-lane federal toll highway in an armored blue Chevrolet Suburban with diplomatic plates when they stopped at what appeared to be a checkpoint by men dressed in camouflage and carrying automatic weapons.

“The agent said, you know, ‘We’re Americans, we’re diplomats,’ and the response from the drug cartel was bullets,” Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican who was briefed Wednesday on the incident told the Houston Chronicle. “They put an AK-47, as I understand it, into the crack in the window and just began to fire away.”

Violence has been commonplace in Mexico since a raging war between drug-smuggling cartels began in 2006, claiming 35,000 lives. The Los Zetas cartel is considered one of the most violent drug gangs now seeking to control lucrative smuggling routes into the U.S.

Mexican military officers said they had no checkpoints in the area. San Luis Potosi police said the agents’ bullet-ridden Suburban was found off to the side of the highway. Law enforcement authorities said at least 10 assailants were involved in the shooting, some of whom were armed with high-powered weapons.

The Mexican government, which does not authorize U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons, condemned what it called “this serious act of violence,” and expressed “solidarity with the government of the United States and the families of the persons who were attacked.”

Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican and a longtime advocate on increased border security, said that despite continuing statements by the Department of Homeland Security that the border is secure, “the continued loss of American lives and raging violence spilling over paints a picture of the harsh reality from the war on the border.”

He cited a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report saying that the government only has operational control of 44 percent of the Southwest border and complete control of only 15 percent.

“We have the most powerful and respected military in the world and this is the best we can do? We control more foreign borders than this,” he said.

“A United States federal agent was targeted and gunned down, another wounded. Our government’s response is to say that we are saddened and offer our help to Mexican officials. Unacceptable,” he said. “Not one more American should be murdered because our government refuses to stand up for our country and its people.”

Mr. Poe said the Mexican government has a long history of corruption and has proven it does not have the capability, or the will, to solve these crimes.

“We have sent billions of U.S. taxpayer money to supposedly aid in fighting the cartels; it is time that we get a return on our money. Justice is what we do in America,” he said.

In a statement, the Zapata family said it had many people to thank for providing “critical support” during this “terrible tragedy.

“Our extended family, loved ones and friends have helped us cope with our grief,” said the statement, signed by Zapata’s brother, Amador. “I also want to thank our community, the City of Brownsville, the State of Texas, as well as the Department of Homeland Security. We have also been overwhelmed by the support of law enforcement officers and agents, and the people of the United States of America during our great loss.”

Amador Zapata described as “unparalleled” his brother’s dedication to service and integrity, adding that he was “the life and soul of our family, and a joy to his friends and colleagues.”

“I hope that you will remember him in your prayers — as well as the other men and women who have served this great country, and paid the ultimate price so that we may live in freedom in a safer United States of America,” he said.

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