U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, says it is time for the White House to re-think its Mexico policy after the shooting death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Tuesday.
“There doesn’t seem to be a plan in place, and my hope is that the president would tell us what his plan is,” Cornyn said during a conference call today.
ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata was shot and killed Tuesday when he and his partner were attacked by gunmen on a highway between Monterrey and Mexico City. The other agent was shot in the arm and leg and is in stable condition, the government reported. Both agents were assigned to ICE's attaché office in Mexico City and were on duty at the time of the attack. Cornyn said Zapata is one about 140 U.S. citizens to die in Mexico in the last two years.
The Department of Homeland Security announced today it has paired with the U.S. attorney general’s office and created a joint task force to assist Mexico in its investigation into the attacks. The FBI will lead the initiative.
Tuesday’s attack has renewed discussions about whether Mexico needs or would consider U.S. military involvement there. The incident also prompted lawmakers and the media to make comparisons between it and the death in 1985 of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. He was murdered by Mexican criminals after being kidnapped and tortured. But former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza issued a statement saying the situations are not alike.
In Camarena's, Garza said, the agent was targeted and tortured with the objective of extracting information about U.S. activities and informant networks. The murder this week, he said, appears to have been perpetrated by lower-level cartel members acting with the intention of robbery or extortion. "But both cases are reminders of the sacrifices and risk law enforcement officers make each day and, given the transnational nature of these criminal organizations, highlight the need for closer cooperation with Mexican authorities, particularly as it relates to intelligence," Garza said.
Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence at STRATFOR, an Austin-based global security analysis firm, said the agents were probably in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
“We don't think that it was an intentional case planned by high-level cartel planners," he said. "Certainly, there’s always more that the U.S. government can do in Mexico, but they’re restrained by the sovereignty of Mexico and really the sensibilities of the Mexican people to American incursion; they really see Americans as a threat.”
Cornyn said resources promised to Mexico under the $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative were moving too slowly. He called upon Congress to do more to increase the flow of aid.
“Unfortunately Congress has not done the kind of oversight to call into account the individuals that are responsible for implementing the initiative,” he said. The senator did not mention a U.S. military presence in Mexico. But he said there have been concerns raised by Mexican and U.S. authorities about the future of the country after current President Felipe Calderón leaves office next year.
“The concern [is] about whether his successor will have the same commitment to fight the cartels and restore peace and law and order to Mexico that he has,” Cornyn said. “My impression is that President Calderón has been heroic in this effort but that the outcome is not clear.”
According to ICE, Zapata joined ICE in 2006, where he was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Special Agent in Charge in Laredo. He had been detailed to ICE’s attaché office at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City at the time of his death. He was a former member of the U.S. Border Patrol in Yuma, Ariz., and a native of Brownsville.
ICE officials released more details in the shooting death of Zapata this afternoon. According to a statement, Zapata and his partner were attacked as they were returning to Mexico City after meeting other U.S. personnel in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
“Such meetings among U.S. law enforcement personnel working in Mexico are a regular part of ICE’s bilateral cooperation in Mexico under existing agreements,” the statement said. “In Mexico, ICE and other U.S. law enforcement personnel support their law enforcement counterparts by sharing information, equipment and professional experience. The ICE Attaché Office is comprised of approximately 30 agents stationed throughout Mexico.”
Despite the presence of U.S. officials in Mexico, the government there does not authorize U.S. law enforcement to carry weapons, the statement said. The agency also noted that it has personnel in 69 locations in 47 countries performing similar duties.