Law protecting U.S. officers abroad could change after recent ICE agent murder re-sentencing

“MX” for Borderland Beat

U.S. agent Jaime Zapata, killed in 2011
In January 2020, two members of Los Zetas who participated in the 2011 murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata in San Luis Potosi had their sentences vacated and sent to a lower court for limited re-sentencing because the murder occurred outside of the U.S.
Earlier this week, U.S. Senator John Cornyn filed the “Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act” in hopes of clarifying a federal law that protects federal officers and employees serving overseas.
“Federal law enforcement officers make incredible sacrifices to protect Americans both on and off American soil, and they deserve our support no matter where they’re stationed,” said Cornyn in a statement. “This bill in honor of the brave Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila will make it clear once and for all that we have our federal agents’ backs.”
Cornyn’s bill amends section 1114 of title 18, United States Code by adding the word “extraterritorial jurisdiction.”
Zapata’s murder: February 2011
The stakes for the U.S. government in Mexico’s drug war were raised on 15 February 2011, when two U.S. federal agents – Jaime Zapata and Víctor Ávila – were victims of an attack by members of Los Zetas in a highway in San Luis Potosí.
At least 15 gunmen reportedly erected a fake military checkpoint and surrounded the agents’ car by ramming their vehicles into theirs.  The gunmen then opened fire, killing Zapata and injuring Ávila. The agents were travelling from Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City in a SUV bearing diplomatic plates while on official work assignment.
Mexican authorities arrive at the crime scene after the shootout
The motives behind the attack were never clearly established; the U.S. government stated that the Zetas members were hijacking vehicles to use for their cartel operations and that their two agents were victims of such activity.
Ávila stated that the Zetas members knew they were U.S. officials but proceeded to attack them anyways. The detainees, however, claimed that they were unaware of their identities and believed they were members of a rival drug cartel.
The attack was the first murder of a U.S. agent in Mexican soil since the killing of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was murdered by Guadalajara Cartel members in 1985.
Sentences vacated: January 2020
Zetas members Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota (AKA Juan Manuel Maldonado Amezcua, Zafado or Safado), 36, of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and Jesus Ivan Quezada Piña (AKA Loco), 29, of Matamoros, Mexico, are among seven Mexican nationals who were extradited to the U.S. on federal charges in this case.
In June 2017, the two were found guilty by a jury of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and sentenced by the Honorable Judge Royce C. Lamberth to life imprisonment in November.
Their attorneys stated that there was no physical evidence tying them to the shootout and that the only evidence presented by the prosecution was from other Zetas members who testified against them.