Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar's (D-TX 28) bill H.R. 915, Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Act of 2011 passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote of 391-2. The bill enhances border security by promoting coordinated efforts and information-sharing among federal, state and local border and law enforcement officials. The Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Act is named after fallen Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Jaime Zapata, who was killed in the line of duty in 2011.
H.R. 915 would, for the first time, statutorily authorize and codify the BEST program. BEST units are inter-agency teams comprised of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies designed to combat cross-border crime.
"When it comes to the vital matter of maintaining the security of our border, we need the collaboration and cooperation of all of our agencies to ensure that we are maximizing our resources to minimize threats," said Cuellar. "BEST teams have already had great success in disrupting criminal activity and keeping Americans safe. This bill honors the service and memory of Special Agent Jaime Zapata by furthering the goals to which he gave his life: ensuring that the United States border remains strong and that border communities like the one he called home remain secure."
"The BEST teams have consistently been one of our success stories in our strategy to stop the southbound flow of cash and weapons that fund and arm the cartels," said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX 10), Chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, and a co-sponsor of the bill. "I can't think of a more fitting way to honor Agent Zapata than to add his name to our efforts to secure the border."
Specifically, H.R. 915 authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through the Director of ICE, to establish BEST units, direct the assignment of federal personnel to that program and take other actions to assist state, local, tribal and foreign jurisdictions with participation. The bill also directs the Secretary to report on the effectiveness of the program in enhancing border security and reducing the drug trafficking, arms smuggling, illegal alien trafficking and smuggling, violence and kidnapping along and across U.S. borders.
"Agent Jamie Zapata died protecting our nation," said Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX 27), a co-sponsor of the bill. "Border Enforcement Security Task Force teams increase cooperation between local, state and federal governments, securing our borders so that no family has to suffer the terrible tragedy Agent Jamie Zapata's family has been through."
Zapata joined ICE in 2006 and was assigned to the Deputy Assistant HSI office in Laredo, Texas, where he served on the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit, as well as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force. On February 15, 2011, Zapata and ICE Special Agent Victor Avila were ambushed by members of Mexican drug cartels in the northern Mexico state of San Luis Potosí. The two ICE agents were traveling between Mexico City and Monterrey. Special Agent Zapata succumbed to his injuries, while Special Agent Avila, who also sustained injuries, survived. Zapata spent his entire life living on the southwest border.
Cuellar is the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, which has direct jurisdiction over border security. The bill will now be reported to the Senate, where it is pending legislative action.